Paper Beads And Melted Glass:
Brittany Merrill Underwood ’07 founded the Akola Project to better the lives of Ugandan women and children.
By Courtney Collins
Brittany Merrill Underwood (center) with Ugandan women.
(Photo courtesy of the the Akola Project)
A North Texas program designed to help marginalized women secure meaningful employment also hopes to empower women. The Akola Project says that starts with a job that pays a living wage.
Akola Project jewelry is not your typical accessory. Vividly colored, the long bead necklaces are made of scrap materials-- metal discs, melted glass, bone and cow horn.
Four hundred women in Uganda work on the project-- carving the pieces and hand rolling the paper beads
Each of them care, on average, for seven children and three elderly adults.
“These women are subsistence farmers and don’t own their own land so one bad harvest and their children starve and then they’re in debt to the local land owner," says founder and CEO Brittany Underwood.
Underwood launched this program after teaching at a Ugandan boarding school when she was still in college at Southern Methodist University. In Africa, she met Sarah, a poor woman caring for 24 street kids, even though she barely had enough to feed herself.
By the time Underwood graduated from SMU in 2006, she’d raised enough money to build a three-story orphanage in Uganda, with room for 180 children. She moved there to oversee the project and found women there, just really needed an income.
That's how the jewelry project was born. It started small but quickly grew—at last count 450 stores in the U.S. sell Akola Jewelry.