Necklaces changing lives of HIV-positive widows

Sanyu Andrew Nsubuga, Uganda Monitor

Yet still, nothing observable about those beautiful, bright-coloured necklaces serves to prepare a beholder for the incredible story behind those handicrafts. A story of necklaces some have called magical for the way they have been able to turn around the lives of everyone connected to them.

We are talking about the necklaces made by the women of Meeting Point International (MPI), an NGO in Nakawa division, which works to improve the lives of poor women living with HIV –particularly around Kireka and Naguru areas in Kampala.

MPI was founded 22 years ago by Rose Busingye, a woman who, upon returning to Uganda from a 10-year sojourn in Italy, just couldn’t watch passively as positive women living with HIV in her neighbourhood of Kireka were dehumanised and destroyed by the disease.

Busingye says: “I saw that the women were very poor and had problems finding food, shelter and other provisions, not only for themselves but their families too. Being HIV positive in tough conditions had made their life hell, and they needed help to begin living meaningful and fairly dignified lives.”

Busingye got some of her own money and added to it what she was able to raise from her friends overseas, then began seeking out the suffering women and trying to help them live better lives. She registered the NGO Meeting Point in order to have her initiative working in an organized manner.

“She would help us with medication as well as food to eat,” says 68-year old Janet Nabirye, who was one of the first to join Meeting Point Kireka in 2000. “She also would find sponsors to pay our children’s school fees.”

Starting to make Necklaces
Busingye recalls that as the number of women she was helping increased, it became very challenging to meet the bills, and she had to figure out a way the women could also help themselves.

Since most of them had formerly been working in the stone quarry, breaking stones, she only had to find something that would both bring in some more money and also not wear them out since most were living with HIV. “I had seen a few of them making crafts, and since I knew that crafts had a market in Europe, I settled on introducing craft making as a business for Meeting Point,” Busingye says.

The women shared their craft-making skills among themselves, and a few volunteers from Europe also came and offered them some training. Tina Kabakunirwa, who has been with Meeting Point since 2004, recalls that the necklaces were just part of several other handcrafts that the women made, others including sweaters, mats among others. She says the ladies in fact still make other crafts alongside the necklaces, only that the necklaces sell most and have eventually become the flagbearer of all crafts they make.

The process of making the necklaces

The necklaces are made primarily from waste paper – all sorts including newspapers and magazines, among others. The process starts with making of beads, and here magazine pages are marked off and cut into long, thin triangles.
The triangles are then rolled around a needle and sealed with glue, creating an egg-shaped bead. The beads are then threaded onto a string and vanished to give them a glossy shine –the varnish taking two to three days to dry.

The women make their necklaces as individuals, mostly at home, each making her own unique and creative designs.
Then each presents their product to Meeting Point, which puts all the products together and looks for market for everything –most going overseas. However, each woman receives payment for her particular products as they sold.

How the necklaces have changed the women’s lives

Josephine Atimango, a member, says, “Necklace and bead-making has been a wonder for us. Many of us never used to have food at home, we used to toil for long hours in the quarries of Kireka to get something to survive on, but now we no longer need to do that.” SRC: Monitor