When Barbara Moller visited two displaced persons camps in northern Uganda with the U.S. State Department in 2005, she saw an opportunity. A small beading project had been started in the camps, and women were learning to make colorful jewelry out of recycled paper.
While the other trainers saw it as a small way to raise money, Barbara saw a way to provide significant income for the women if she could create a market in the U.S. Out of this was born Paper to Pearls, a nonprofit organization that works with more than 125 women in eight displaced persons camps in northern Uganda. Paper to Pearls trains the women to hand-roll recycled paper into beads for eco-friendly jewelry.
In addition to providing an income for food, medicines and educational supplies, Paper to Pearls also teaches women to become self-sustaining and able to manage their own business.
The net revenue from jewelry sales is ultimately put back in to the displaced persons camps. Since most of the beaders live in rural areas without access to banks, each cooperative maintains a communal savings program.
After more than two decades of conflict and dependency on humanitarian aid, the opportunity to earn an individual income is making a big impact. According to the World Bank, the average annual income in Uganda is just under $340, less than $1 a day. Paper to Pearls beaders can earn as much as $120 per month. That’s four times the national average. Paper to Pearls estimates that “behind every beader, there are 30 people who benefit from the income she earns.”