The newest fundraising effort by Nyanyas of Niagara has a satisfying “what-goes-around-comes around” feeling.
Across Canada, hundreds of Nyanyas groups (Nyanya means grandmother in Swahili) have raised over $33 million for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s campaign in support of African grandmothers who have once again become parents, as a generation of their children died from HIV-AIDS.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic now challenging all charitable fundraising, the 150 members of the local Nyanyas group turned to assembling and selling colourful paper-beaded bracelets at the local Village market and to friends and family.
What makes these bracelets so special is where the paper beads come from. Deep in the heart of Central East Africa.
The backstory is compelling.
It starts in strife-torn Uganda, a landlocked country of more than 40 million, perched on the northern shores of Lake Victoria, almost 40 hours by air from Niagara.
There, mothers drift with their children to the slums outside the capital in Kampala, for safety and to eke out a simple living working in local stone quarries. The men have been taken from their remote northern villages.
Now, with the help of foreign aid workers, these women have become a small army of bead makers, feeding the international appetite for interesting beads for jewelry. Now, they have income to feed, house and educate their families. Now they have a chance.
That’s where the Nyanyas of Niagara come in.
The Ugandan women are paid for their beadwork. Fast-forward (or, perhaps, slow-forward) to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The money earned by the Nyanyas’ volunteer effort to assemble and sell the beads to the community is returned to sub-Saharan Africa to support the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. A sort of double value.
The idea to use the African beads to make colourful bracelets for sale in NOTL was the brainchild of a local, self-confessed “mad beader,” who asked that we not use her name: “The story is not about me. It’s about using these beads to change people’s lives.”
The “mad beader” was aware of a bushel basket-full of beads of all shapes, colours and sizes that could be purchased at a good price. Thousands of shiny, varnished paper beads.
She offered to acquire the beads, provide the required equipment and filler beads, and teach the Nyanyas how to make the bracelets. “All they needed was a plan to market the results.”
Making paper beads is not unique to Uganda or even Africa. Thought to have originated in the parlours of Victorian England, paper beads are made from strips of shiny scrap paper, carefully cut, rolled and coated with shellac.
Armed with an almost uncountable number of beads, the next step was up to Terry Mactaggart and the seven members of the local Nyanyas' steering committee. Mactaggart was one of the founding members of the NOTL group in 2007.
“The steering committee got together for a socially distanced bracelet-making event,” says Mactaggart. “It was up to the individual as to how they were going to put the colours and sizes together. Then we all took a selection of beads home to finish the job.
“We created over 200 bracelets. We’ve sold many of the first batch and still have some lovely ones left. If someone wants to buy any of the remaining bracelets, it’s best to email email@example.com. We’ll arrange to display them in person.”
Now the Nyanyas are considering how to use the leftover beads. “Perhaps we’ll make earrings.”
Over the past 13 years, Nyanyas of Niagara has raised close to $120,000, says Mactaggart.
The Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign provides food, health care, school fees and uniforms, counselling, social support and essential shelter.