Helping Uganda's women, bit by bit
The jewelry 31 Bits sells is quite obviously stylish and unique, but the company does SO much more than make accessories. Since 2008, 31 Bits has been purchasing handmade jewelry from internally displaced women in Northern Uganda, allowing them to sell their products in the international marketplace and empowering them to rise above poverty.
SheKnows had the privilege of interviewing two of the 31 Bits designers, Apiyo Juliet and Alum Santa, about their lives before 31 Bits and how the company has helped them to prosper. Read on to learn more!
In the summer of 2007, college student Kallie Dovel traveled to Northern Uganda and saw firsthand the struggles faced by the local women. While visiting, Dovel made friends with several of the local women who made jewelry from recycled paper beads. Unfortunately, without access to a larger marketplace, there was hardly any opportunity for these women to get ahead. Dovel returned home to the U.S. to finish her college degree and while there, she recruited a few friends who were interested in being part of something that would truly make a difference in the lives of women in Africa.
In 2008, 31 Bits was born when Dovel and her friends traveled back to Uganda and selected six female designers to begin purchasing jewelry from on a monthly basis which they would then market and sell internationally. The group of women had a vision of creating a business that would enable women financially, mentally, spiritually, and physically and might we say, they certainly succeeded.
Now, just four years later, 31 Bits has over 100 women who they are working with in Gulu, Uganda. Not only are these women able to provide for their families, but they also have access to programs such as English lessons, finance training, community groups, AIDS and health education, and vocational training.
31 Bits empowers their jewelry designers by teaching them to save money and set goals for the future so that within three to five years of working with the company, the women can set out on their own and create a sustainable future for themselves by either becoming self-employed or joining another company. 31 Bits is built on the values of love, equality, hope, honesty, quality, growth and innovation and is dedicated to continuously improving the quality of life of women and their families in Northern Uganda.
Apiyo Juliet is a 24-year-old Ugandan native who hopes to earn her degree or certificate in the near future and has an abundant curiosity about life in the U.S.
Alum Santa is a mother of three rambunctious boys who is working on improving her English and is always willing to help translate from the local language of Luo.
Keep reading to learn more about these women and their journey with 31 Bits.
SheKnows: How has working with 31 Bits changed your life?
Apiyo: It has helped me so much financially. I was not working before and could not afford a lot of things.
Alum: There has been so much improvement. Before, I was not working and I could do nothing to improve my life. Now I am able to take care of my family.
SheKnows: What opportunities has 31 Bits given you and your family?
Apiyo: Now I am able to help my sister go back to school with the income that I am making. My husband has also started at the University with the money I am making from working here.
Alum: My family is able to eat well now. My children were not in school before, but now they are able to go to school every day.
SheKnows: What is the most valuable piece of information you have taken away from the 31 Bits program?
Apiyo: The psychosocial trainings have helped me so much. Before I was always feeling down, but I am now able to have a positive outlook on my life.
Alum: I have learned how to love others. I have also learned how to take care of my money and save it.
SheKnows: What has been your greatest obstacle in life?
Apiyo: Most of my income goes to paying for my husband and sister to go to school. We live with my husband's mother to save money and it has been very difficult.
Alum: Finding work was so difficult. I could not make money and sometimes was not able to feed my children.
SheKnows: How has 31 Bits helped you overcome that obstacle?
Apiyo: When my husband finishes school, we will be very happy. 31 Bits has helped him go back to school to have a better life.
Alum: Now I have a regular income and have been able to provide so much for my family. My life has improved so much.
SheKnows: How does it make you feel to be a part of a program that truly values your well-being and the well-being of your family?
Apiyo: I am so grateful to be encouraged and supported.
Alum: I feel like 31 Bits is my mother and my father. I always feel supported and loved.
SheKnows: What inspires your jewelry designs?
Apiyo: The beads are so beautiful. It makes me happy to be able to make such beautiful things with my own hands. I am proud of my work and enjoy learning new designs.
Alum: I enjoy the work so much because I know that it helps me.
How to help
So now you’re wondering, how can I help? 31 Bits has several volunteer opportunities, the most popular being to host a House Party. All you have to do is invite everyone you know and 31 Bits will take care of the rest! After applying to host a party, you will receive your House Party Box which contains a variety of bracelets and necklaces, a small poster, postcards, an email sign-up sheet and a list of frequently asked questions. If you aren’t the party hosting type or don’t have time to volunteer, you can still show your support by sharing 31 Bits with your friends and of course, checking out the jewelry in the online store.
More ways to give back