Magazines Aren’t Just for Reading
Rwandan women use scraps of newspapers and magazines to make unique jewelry.
By Kaitlyn Frizzell
A group of women sit around a table placed on a dirt floor in the city of Kigali. Newspapers and magazines cover the table top along with bowls of sealant, beads, and wire. Each woman uses her hands as her tool. They carefully place each plastic bead in a creative order and prepare pieces of paper to make their jewelry. She holds a bead in one hand and wraps the colorful paper around the bead. The angular shape makes the paper increase in thickness towards the middle and thin out towards the ends. This makes a unique shape that is popular among the jewelry makers. Then, she takes the sealant and layers it on the paper. The sealant holds the shape of the bead. She continues to do this until dozens of beads are made and can be put together to form a necklace.
The women that make this unique jewelry come from Rwanda, a country in Central Eastern Africa. They try to make do with what they have since their country had a genocide in 1994. The people are slowly healing, but still look for work and a way to provide for their families. The women have found a way to do just that.
Alicia Davis, a member of Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., has been to Rwanda nine times since 2002. However, she did not realize the success of these necklaces until a few years ago while on a mission trip to the country.
“This way of making beads has been going on for generations in their families,” Davis says. “It is their livelihood… how they make their money.”
The beads themselves can be traded in the markets for other items the women might need, but also can be made into several jewelry items. The women are able to make more profit if the beads are available in different types of jewelry.
“I’ve seen these beads on earrings, bracelets and rings,” Davis says.
Davis says there is actually another way the women make the beads. Instead of wrapping paper around a plastic bead, the women use a wire.
“The women wrap the paper around the wire and chose to increase or decrease the thickness of the shape,” Davis says. “Then, when the shape they want is made, they use the sealant on the paper to hold it in place and remove the wire from the middle which creates a hole for the thread to go through.”
Not only is this giving the women money, they are recycling as well. The women use scraps of newspapers and magazines for the shape of the bead.
“They mostly use the magazines for the colorful beads,” Davis says. “It is an easy source for them to find and use.”
Instead of littering old newspapers or throwing away magazines in dumps, the women have found an abundance of material to use.The Rwandan women may not see this as recycling, but in the process of helping their families, they are also helping the environment.
Most of the Rwanda women make the beads and sell to local markets within their community, but recently some stores and organizations from the United States have taken notice of these interesting pieces.
Lifeway Christian Store and Rahab’s Rope set up sections in their stores to display the necklaces. When a customer buys the necklaces, the proceeds go directly to the women in Africa.
Other organizations buy the necklaces directly from the women in Rwanda then sell them here in the United States.
Katie Early, a student at Lanier Technical College, says the beads are something different than the other jewelry seen in the United States.
“I think they are a great visual representation of what part of Africa they come from,” Early says. “You can tell that whoever made them has a great love for their country.”
Davis believes their popularity has grown in the United States due to our cultural interests and styles. She has seen the beads at trade shows in Atlanta and local stores.
“People love the colorful and eclectic look to the necklaces,” Davis says. “Right now, the Bohemian look is big and people like that it’s made by hand.”
The ability to make jewelry out of something as simple as paper has caught the attention of many people. The Rwandan women use their skills to provide for their families and, little do they know, start a trend around the world.