This past week, members of Sigma Chi have been selling brightly-colored beaded necklaces, bracelets, earrings and anklets outside of the cafeteria. The simple beaded strands connected Knox students to impoverished women in Uganda, who cut, rolled and glazed strips from a magazine to make the beads through the program BeadsForLife, a non-profit organization started in September of 2004.
“BeadsForLife is a program that teaches village women in Uganda how to hand-make beads,” said senior Kevin Goestch, a member of Sigma Chi. “They help women create a sustainable living.”
BeadsForLife literally creates communities by purchasing land in Uganda and building infrastructure using profits from bead sales. The organization employs women to make the beads and over half of the profit goes towards supporting the community with projects such as creating wells, a sanitation system, and constructing houses. A smaller percentage of the profit goes directly to the women who made the beads for personal salary.
“We’re not just helping them make a profit, we’re helping the community,” said Goestch. “It’s a really good system.”
Goestch said he supports BeadsForLife because the program promotes more than just altruistic charitable giving. Whereas many organizations encourage others to donate money to support impoverished people in Africa, BeadsForLife goes a step further to encourage a sustainable community and lifestyle for those people.
“It’s not just feeding mindlessly into another corporation,” said Goestch.
As an economics and psychology double major, Goestch has spent much time researching the affects of charitable giving, which he said is often not sustainable. During tough economic times, such altruistic donations decrease significantly while the need for that money still exists. Additionally, the people receiving such charity often do not learn to become self-sufficient. According to their website, one goal of the BeadsForLife program is to create a lifestyle where its members can be independent after working with the program for 27 months.
“Charitable giving is not enough. It’s not bad, but it’s not sustainable,” said Goestch. “That’s why I like BeadsForLife. They are sustainable. It is a good cause, you know where your money is going.”
Instead of strictly charitable giving, microfinance, in Goestch’s opinion, is the way to help those impoverished people have a healthy, sustainable life. The women involved in BeadsForLife are either recruited into or volunteer in groups to make these beads to help support their families. Twelve different women worked together to make the beads Sigma Chi are selling at Knox.
This is the second year that Sigma Chi has participated in BeadsForLife by hosting a bead party. Both years, Goestch contacted BeadsForLife and ordered several beads to sell. Last year the group raised $3,200 by selling their beads and received a thank-you letter from the beaders last year. The most popular item sold at Knox was anklets, which Goestch made sure to order extra of this year.
“People love those little things. I think they’re great,” said Goestch. “I think the inventory is perfect for a college campus.”
The small bracelets and anklets are sold for $5, while the larger items are sold for $10-20, an affordable price for college students. Sigma Chi members will be selling their bracelets through the end of the week and may continue into next week, if they have beads left.