Monday, December 31, 2012
Refugee Beads: Jewelry provides income, community & hope
By Clare S. Richie
Refugee Beads caught my attention at Candler Park’s Fall Fest. A decade ago, I worked with refugees who fled their country because of racial, religious or political persecution and came to Atlanta to rebuild their lives. The transition to life in the U.S., while full of promise, is extremely difficult both financially and emotionally. So, I was curious about the connection between refugees and this beautiful affordable jewelry.
As I paid for my necklace, Director Ruthie North was happy to explain that she trained local refugee women to make jewelry to earn much needed income and for fellowship. She markets Refugee Beads jewelry across America in stores, craft fairs, and online. Ruthie invited me to their weekly work session in Chamblee where the artisans gather to create jewelry, share a meal, and support one another.
There I met Purna, who fled violence in Bhutan for safety in Nepal two decades ago. For 16 years she and her family lived in a refugee camp. During this time she met and married her husband and gave birth to two children. There is no future in a refugee camp, but thankfully in 2008 the U.S invited her family to resettle in Georgia.
Luck struck again in 2009 when Purna started working with Refugee Beads. That’s when Ruthie decided to combine her jewelry-making/retail experience with her passion for helping refugee women. Since then, the work has helped Purna adjust to her new life – both financially and emotionally. She has opportunities and goals now – such as moving her family into a house.
Purna and six artisans were busy creating product for the holiday season and the January AmericasMart show. Refugee Beads hopes to secure more wholesale partners, like WorldCraft, who use the show to build their inventory for the year. These partnerships provide guaranteed income to the artisans.
Despite language and cultural barriers – the women worked in harmony stringing bracelets and swapping stories. There is dignity in creating these beautiful designs that other women value enough to buy. These women mostly work from home, as toddlers nap or as a second job but the weekly gatherings relieve the feelings of isolation. One artisan came, despite working chicken processing plant night shift, for this fellowship.
As demand for Refugee Beads grows it can become a primary not supplementary income and more refugee women can be trained.
So this holiday season, consider ordering jewelry from Refugee Beads on-line, hosting a jewelry party, visiting or becoming a community partner who sells custom pieces not found on the website. The jewelry you buy will be a beautiful reminder of the women and families you have empowered.
Where to Buy Refugee Beads
Community Grounds Coffee Shop: communitygrounds.org
The Franklin Shops: thefranklinshops.com
Atlantis Eclectic Boutique: facebook.com/atlantianstyle