Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

BeadforLife: Eradicating Extreme Poverty One Bead At a Time

BFL Cofounders Torkin-Devin

Sometimes life takes an unforeseen direction, where the future is determined by opportunities that slowly appear and take over. Such is the story of the founding of BeadforLife. In 2004 Torkin Wakefield accompanied her husband, an AIDS doctor, to Uganda. Before moving she met with her grown daughter, Devin, and her great friend Ginny Jordan. “Surely there is work for us to do in Uganda. Let’s stop complaining about how hard life can be and do something about it,” they determined.

A few months later the three women were walking through a Ugandan slum in the capital city of Kampala. There they met a woman sitting in the dust rolling a long piece of paper into a bead. Stopping to chat with her, they discovered that Millie Grace Akena worked in a rock quarry for a dollar a day. She loved doing crafts and made paper beads but could not find any markets. Torkin and Ginny bought beads and went on their way. Little did they suspect that they were at the beginning of a life changing experience; life changing for them and also for thousands of Ugandans and tens of thousands of North Americans.

Over the past seven years BeadforLife has matured into a poverty eradication program working with women who live on a dollar a day. Once in the 18-month program, the women can generate a regular income of about $280 a month by making paper bead jewelry. This is equivalent to that of a teacher salary in Uganda. They begin a savings account, learn entrepreneurial skills, and start developing a business(s). With guidance from the staff they launch their businesses and graduate with the ability to take care of themselves and their families. During their membership at BeadforLife they will receive literacy and numeracy training and health care. Over 1000 women have gone through or are currently enrolled in the bead rolling project. Each woman supports an average of 8 people.

The beads are made from colorful recycled paper. Sometimes the paper is from calendars, cereal boxes, magazines and posters. Beaders, as the women are known, cut pages into long triangles. The size of the triangle determines the shape of

the bead. Beads are then sealed and made into fifteen different pieces of jewelry. This jewelry is very affordable ranging in price from $5 to $30. It is light weight, colorful and durable. It makes a perfect gift!

Our second income generating project was launched in northern Uganda in 2010. BeadforLife decided to work with very poor women who gather shea nuts. Shea nuts, which grow across the countryside, are often called “women’s gold.” We press oil from these nuts and then sell to the international cosmetics companies. BeadforLife makes two shea products: Peppermint Lip Balm and Organic Soap with Lemon Grass and Lavender. These are both fabulous new products, having just become available online and at BeadParties.

Shea butter from Uganda is a superior ingredient for cosmetics and as the market grows it is possible that a large demand will result in tens of thousands of people gathering nuts and making income. We are currently working with 740 women in our shea butter project. Most of these women are farmers, and we work to educate these women are about improving their farms and getting their agricultural goods to market.

In addition to the income generation programs, BeadforLife also invests in other strategies that help people leave poverty behind. We sponsor bright girls for middle and high school education and we send impoverished youth to vocational training. To date, about 400 youth have benefited. We also have a small grants program in which we fund other organizations doing poverty eradication work in Africa.

In 2004 BeadforLife began building a village. We built 132 homes in a place we call ‘Friendship Village’. Members saved their money and helped one another dig foundations and build houses. Having title to land and a home is something that very few women in Uganda have and signifies a step out of poverty. The village is lively, the gardens are abundant, and healthy children play on the playgrounds. We are proud to say that now 1,000 people call Friendship Village home.

In 2004 BeadforLife began selling paper beads woman to woman, through BeadParties. North American women opened their hearts and homes to host a “BeadParty.” BeadParties are opportunities for women to get involved in helping to end extreme poverty and are fun to give! BeadforLife fully supports the party by sending a BeadParty box full of everything that is needed including: hundreds of beaded jewelry items, DVD of the members, an original CD, biographies, recipes and tips for a great party. Anyone can give a great and memorable party! Over 10,000 BeadParties have been held in the past 7 years. BeadParties are given in offices, homes, schools, book clubs, family reunions, local fairs and farmers’ markets.

BeadParties are free, easy and it feels great to do something for others who are working hard to leave poverty behind. The host gets to be a local hero by having a fun party with a purpose.

Wanting to reach more people in North America we developed our educational program and our curriculum: “Understanding Global Poverty and How Youth Can Make a Difference.” This dynamic and experiential curriculum offers teachers and youth leaders wonderful lessons that introduce youth to what it is like to live on a dollar a day. They learn what they can do in their own communities to make a difference. Thousands of teachers have downloaded this free curriculum.







BeadforLife offers many ways for people to get involved:

The best decision we made at BeadforLife was to sell our beads woman-to-woman, avoiding the retail route. We wanted to preserve the story of the hard-working Ugandan women who’s lifting herself and her family out of poverty. Selling beads woman-to-woman at BeadParties allows us to tell our story and involve thousands of people who want to make a difference.

BeadforLife is continuing to expand its work in both East Africa and across the globe. We give ordinary citizens who want to make a difference an opportunity to get involved.

Please visit us at for more information or to join us in this important work.

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