joyecMolly is the director of the jewelry business that Caylin and Kelsey, two college age girls from Grantsburg, Wisconsin, started in 2009. We call her “Momma Molly” because she has this uncanny ability to nuture woman wherever she is. Just being in her presence is enough to make you feel better about yourself, your life, and your future. Today we went with Molly to hang out with the jewelry ladies at their place of work.

Let me describe their business place. Twenty-one women gather under the shade of several trees, circled by traditional style African mud huts. This is where life happens for them on a daily basis. All together these 21 women have 55 children, of which 20 are under the age of five. A typical day in the life of these women begins at the crack of dawn when they rise to gather sticks to start their morning fire to prepare breakfast. Every morning (and many evenings) the women walk to the bore-well to fill up their bright yellow jerrycans with twenty liters of water each. After the school age children head to school, these mommas do a little cleaning, sweep the dirt outside their hut, and wash clothes by hand before they start their work day- all with their youngest ones tied to their backs. Already these ladies have been working for four to five hours- but “work” hasn’t even begun. The ladies then gather under the shade trees and settle down on the four large grass mats for the tedious work of making earrings, bracelets, headbands and necklaces of various lengths and colors.

It might sound simple or crude, but to see it in action is really to see the African version of a quilting party or creative memories scrapbooking “get together.” As the ladies work on their jewelry, they chatter away about typical women issues- marriage, children, health issues, and most of all how God is working in their lives. The working environment is relaxed, a gentle breeze blowing, the women each bringing their own lunch or walking a short distance home to prepare it. The jewelry business is a bit like an assemble line. The beads are actually made of colorful paper largely found from bulletins or posters that hang around town. They then get the paper cut into small, skinny triangular strips that are ready to be rolled, glued, strung, and varnished. The beads hang on a line to dry in the sunshine and the breeze, and when they have finished drying, go through inspection for quality control before being restrung into the finished product.

Today was a day of celebrating their business. Women love gifts, and these women were no exception. In this situation, the gifts were more practical. We gave them a new, traditionalcharcoal cooking stove which was a huge step up from anything they had. I did a lot of research and found the best stove East Africa has to offer. It has been tested by various organizations for fuel consumption and carbon emissions. This stove cuts fuel consumption in half, thus saving each family $80 a year, which is a chunk of their annual income. It also cuts emmissions in half, reducing health concerns due to inhalation of smoke in a closed environment. In addition to the stoves, webrought gifts of food as a blessing to them and their families. Many of the women are illiterate, so to top it off, we gave them audio solar players with stories from the Bible in their native language. You should have heard the can African whooping expression of gratitude for the gifts they received- you just had to be there. 🙂

We also wanted to hear their testimonies, get to know them, and offer encouragement where possible. We learned a lot, but for the sake of this blog, I just want to share one the story of one lady:

Hope was one of the first ladies to share. She described her situation one year ago, which was the last time I was here to meet with them. The situation in her home was desperate. She was down to only 500 Ugandan shillings- approximently 25 US cents. Now it wasn’t just Hope at home, she had a husband and two small children too. That morning, there was literally no foood in the house, and 25 cents won’t get you much in any place in the world. Her young children like any other children woke up hungry. They wanted breakfast. “Mommy,” her little daughter said, “I’m hungry. Whats for breakfast?” Hope told us she wanted to distract them and get their minds off of food, so she began to lead them in a song about Jesus. It didn’t work very long before the little girl said, “Mommy, I want something to eat!”

It was at that moment that the phone rang. It was Momma Molly telling Hope that Diane was in town and wanted to meet with the ladies under the tree. “She said you had some food for us. That was the day you brought us each about 40 pounds of food- rice, posho, beans, corn flour, salt, sugar, cooking oil and laundry soap. I got off the phone and told my children ‘Jesus answers prayers. We do have something to sing about, food is coming!’” She ended by saying, “Momma Diane, God has used you to be a blessing in our lives. We are thankful for this business, and thankful for your gifts of encouragement for us.”

I wish I could say that all is well with Momma Molly, the girls, and the jewelry business, but it isn’t. We had one outlet for the sale of the jewelry- the Espresso Cabin Coffee Shop in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Due to the economy and the small town location, the coffee shop has closed and with it, the income for these 21 women and their 55 children. We would love to keep this business going for the sake of our Ugandan sisters and their children- can you help? Got any ideas of venue locations where we can sell the jewelry? Please let us know!

PS. We’ve all heard the expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That was a guiding principle for part of the conversation as the ladies and I discussed other income-generating possibilities. Stay tuned for more info on another blog entry.