Omiyo Jewelry - Giving Hope to Gulu
1.) Tell us about the history of your organization?In 2011, a young Ugandan man who had started an organization to support his rural community, was in the computer center in Gulu town, learning to use computers, and hoping to find a way to get a website for his organization. He saw a young man s teaching computers in the center, and felt God telling him to ask that young man for help. That young man was my son Joey, who was doing a college internship at the computer center. They became friends, and Joey made a website for the organization. A few months later, after Joey returned home, he got an email from his Ugandan friend saying that he wanted to start an income-generating project for women in his community who were learning to make paper beads. He asked if Joey knew anyone who could help him market the beads. At that time, I was manager of a fair trade store, so Joey contacted me, and I agreed to help. I became very involved with the bead group and the rest of the organization, and visit them yearly. Early on, I realized that while the bead business would help some of the more capable women of the community, there were many other families of orphaned children, headed by old grandmothers trying to earn school fees. Since I belong to a very generous church I suggested we start a sponsorship program for these families in tandem with the bead business. This grew very quickly; we currently have 67 children in the program, which has outgrown our small church. Sponsorship fees of $20 a month pay for a basic education in rural schools for the children. But we wanted to actually improve the children's education, and get them into better schools (it's typical for rural schools to have 100 children in a class, and for teachers to miss weeks at a time, with no substitute). Initially we called the business Jewels for Schools, and pledged to use as much of the sales to provide the children a better education at Bethel Christian School, which costs quite a bit more than rural schools. We re-branded this year as Omiyo, which means "Give" in Luo, the tribal language of our Ugandan artisans. Jewels for Schools is now a program of Omiyo.
2.) What are some of the trials and triumphs you have faced in bringing your organization to where it is today?Not living in Uganda is hard as I don't have much control over product development and shipping is expensive. I often get a whole shipment of styles that I know I can't sell, it's very difficult! The women I work with are extremely poor subsistence farmers, and there is no way for them to know what is in style in the US. The last time I went, I took a lot of samples for them to follow, but it's hard for them to understand that I want things exactly like this. No substituting green sparkly beads for brass beads, for example. To be fair, it's hard for a group in the small northern town of Gulu to get supplies. Most bead groups have moved to the capital for that reason, because shipping is easier from the capital, and because it's easier to just fly to Kampala, and not have to take the grueling eight-hour bus ride to Gulu. But I am committed to working with women and children in Gulu.
The main reason Omiyo exists is not for me to have a booming business, but to help create jobs in this area where unemployment is about 70%. So despite the hardships, I will continue to work in Gulu and the rural communities that surround it.Also, in 2014 temptation became too much for my Ugandan partner, and he misused donated funds we had been collecting for a school project. In addition, his wife was the head of the group, and she had quit working with any of the other women, in order to get all the income for herself and her mother. I had to quit working with both of them. I was discouraged and thought of giving up the bead business. But there was no way I could abandon the 67 sponsored children. It was a hard year, trying to replace all my former systems with new ones, while struggling with feelings of discouragement. I also have struggled with how to relate to my former partners. They were like family to me, and it is hard to see them and their child suffering with no employment again, as well as rejection from their community, who are angry with them for messing up a good arrangement that really benefited the community. During my last visit, we had a reconciliation mediated by a local pastor, as well as a meeting with some local leaders to work out practical details and let the community know that I have forgiven them.
3.) How have you seen God provide?God provided me with my Ugandan son, Derrick. He just turned up at my daughter's wedding two years ago, because he happened to be visiting my son Joey. I asked him to come and live with us, and he has become part of our family. He's been helpful in so many ways, but especially when things fell apart with my former leadership in Uganda. Derrick is a people person, and had just the right people in his Ugandan circles to provide help in all the ways I needed it: one was able to do a bit of detective work for me on the progress of the school project, another was able to check on some shady money transfer issues through her job. His friends Paul and Diana, both accountants, now pay school fees for me, and his aunt Jacky is now my head bead lady. Through his cousin Kennedy I'm able to communicate with the bead group. Without Derrick, I would not have been able to continue my work. God put him in our lives at just the right time.
4.) As an organization what excited about right now?I am excited by the new artisans I've met and started working with this year: Jacky and the other members of RwotOmiyo, who meet together for prayer and mutual support as well as working on beads in Gulu, Uganda. Azucena, who makes earrings of wire and stone from her tiny shop in a mountain town in Nicaragua, and is so excited to help kids in her community go to school. Aracely and Carolina are two Nicaraguan women who collect pine needles and create amazing jewelry like you've never seen before.
5.) We can't wait to see what the future holds for you. What are some of your hopes and goals for 2015? The next three years?I want to expand my markets, to provide more income for these women. I'd like to get products into more stores, as I find that handmade products do best when people can see and touch them, and the nature of paper beads is that each one is unique, so it's difficult to sell from a picture. I'd also like to find a gift shop or shops in an area with a lot of pines, where I can market the pine needle jewelry. Maybe this year or next, I'd like to try a trade show. And I'd like to spend more time in Uganda.
We are so amazed by the work the Lord has done through Omiyo - even in the midst of such turbulent times - and are blessed to be able to play a small role in such an awesome ministry.
You can play a role too! Support Omiyo by shopping here.
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