Meet Joyce - One of our paper beaders

One of my favorite parts of the time I spend in Uganda working on product development is visiting the homes of our artisans.

Each time I visit I am flooded with a wealth of love, generosity, SPIRIT, and ALIVENESS that makes my heart glow.

A few days ago I visited Joyce and her three sons – Paul, Mark, and Solomon. Joyce is one of Fair Earth’s paper beaders. Incidentally, we are neighbors in Uganda, as their home is just a short walk from where I stay in Luzira.

Solomon, Holly, Paul, and Mark

Creative Christmas decorations in Joyce's home

I was greeted warmly and served a delicious lunch of matoke, pumpkin, rice, and soup upon arriving. I immediately noticed the incredibly creative Christmas decorations in their home – Paul, Joyce’s eldest son, had cut his old school papers into triangular shapes and strung them along the ceiling to create a festive holiday atmosphere. The breeze coming through the door made the papers flutter and cast sparkling shadows throughout the room – it was absolutely delightful.

Joyce with her three sons

Paul admiring his mom's paper beadwork

We spent the afternoon looking through photos, exchanging stories, and then working on new products.

“My mom is a good mom,” Paul told me proudly as we looked through their family photo album. “She takes very good care of us.”

All three boys adore their mom. I gave Joyce some glass beads for her to use in supplementing her paper bead designs, and immediately the boys were looking for colors that would compliment their mother’s dress.

As the stories kept coming, I learned more about their love and respect for her—it is based upon a very real knowledge of how hard their mom works to put them through school. Joyce did not get an education, which means her opportunities for employment are limited. Yet she has worked tirelessly so that her children will have more opportunities than she does.

Fair Earth

Joyce showing off her beadwork in front of her home

Her pathway to her current work – making beads from recycled newspapers and magazines – has not been easy. She worked for a year and a half with NO PAY for the current mayor of Uganda cleaning up the streets of developing neighborhoods. I was heart-broken by the story. With no money for transport, she would leave home before the sun rose to walk hours to their work destination, pushing forward upon the promise of pending money, which never came. After becoming weak and sickly from long days of work with no food, Joyce’s mom told her she would die if she continued and taught her how to make paper beads as an alternative. That was eight years ago. I asked her if she took any action to try to get the money she was promised, and she replied, “there is nothing we can do. We are poor and uneducated. We have no power over the government. We would maybe have a voice if we had a lawyer, but we have no money for lawyers. So we just move on.”

Joyce and Solomon

These stories of injustice fill me with frustration and ANGER. However, I am also inspired and hopeful to be a part of a fair trade movement which puts people FIRST – a movement where respect, fairness, and integrity take precedence, and where success NEVER comes at the expense of another’s exploitation.

I am also happy to be working with Joyce, and delighted to see the joy and hope not only in her face, but also in the faces of her children!

Thanks for your support,


Holly Elzinga

Joyce and Holly with the beautiful necklace/earring/bracelet set she made for me from recycled paper

©2010 Fair Earth | Andersonville Galleria - 5247 N. Clark St. Chicago IL 60640

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