Paper jewelry for a paycheck

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Photo by Alison James
Martha Ellen Johnson displays the jewelry available through Four Corners Ministries, handcrafted with paper by women at Abaana’s Hope in Gulu, Uganda – a village Four Corners is building. All proceeds from jewelry sales go to the women to help them support their families. Four Corners Ministries helps Ugandan women sell handmade beads.

By Alison James
Associate Editor 

Paper can be used for many things – teaching, cleaning and entertaining, for starters. But Four Corners Ministries is using paper to change lives in Gulu, Uganda – in the form of handcrafted paper beaded jewelry.

At Abaana’s Hope, the village Four Corners is helping to institute in Gulu, the men have been put to work building the village’s school, orphanage, women’s refuge, corn mill and more. But up until a couple of years ago, their wives along with women from the refuge had no way to be involved. That changed when Four Corners realized they could employ the women in creation of paper jewelry.

“We’re trying to restore life to these people and empower them,” explained Martha Ellen Johnson, head of donor development and event planning with Four Corners. “Two days are bead-making days, and one day is a jewelry making day. The women are in community with each other, and they have a strong support of women around them.”

The Gulu women cut the colored paper into long, thin strips with paper cutters. Then the bead making begins.

“They put it on bike spokes, and they spin it,” Johnson said. “Then they put a shellack on it and let it sit in the sun.”

The women make several thousand beads a day from all colors of paper, creating necklaces, jewelry and earrings that are modern and fashionable. The jewelry is then transported to Four Corners and sold throughout the area.

“Our main source of revenue for the income is jewelry parties, like Thirty-One and Pampered Chef,” Johnson said. “It’s also in Resurrect Antiques, Southern Crossings and Sprout Children’s Boutique in Auburn.”

They also take the jewelry to local festivals and event like CityFest in Auburn.

“They make the jewelry, and then they get a paycheck – all of the proceeds go back to them,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal – to employ these women. We want them to be proud of something. We want them to take pride in their job and their handiwork.”

The bulk of their stock is in the $35-40 range – mostly bundled into jewelry sets, like a necklace and bracelet combo. Some are more ornate and more expensive. Simple bracelets or earrings cost $5-15.

“They are all so unique … If you see something you like, you’d better get it, because it might not be here next time,” Johnson said.

Four Corners has recently rebranded the jewelry line and will soon officially launch it as Life Beads. Johnson said a new website is in development, and they hope someday to soon to be able to host “flash sales” online – offering a limited number of items, potentially at a discount, online for a limited period of time in a pop-up shop.

“I want it to grow – not for me, to say, ‘Look at what I have done,’ – but I want these women to say, ‘I have a business,’ and be really proud of something,’” said Johnson, whose goal is to plan at least two parties a month and progress into more local shops and festivals or craft shows.

As jewelry sales flourish, Four Corners is continuing the mission to build Abaana’s Hope and change the economic and social atmosphere in Gulu.

Jewelry can be purchased at Four Corners, 715 Ave. A, Opelika, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. To plan a jewelry party or learn more, visit www.lifebeads.org or email marthaellen@fourcorners.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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