The Bead Ladies of Banda

The Bead Ladies of Banda

On her recent visit to Uganda Deki’s International Programme Director, Diane, travelled to the East Kampalan township of Banda. The community here is comprised of refugees who fled the Second Sudanese Civil War, roughly 25 years ago. The war led to the displacement of over 4 million people, many of whom travelled to neighbouring Uganda seeking a safe place to settle from the devastation in their own country. Without Ugandan citizenship, women like Sebina have limited financial opportunity.

Whilst travelling through the town Diane met some of the Banda Bead Ladies, a group of women who have become renowned for the beads they make and sell. Created from paper using a precise and painstaking process the women create beautiful results. The craft takes place in the group leader’s house, the other women work together, creating a real sense of community. Diane especially remembers how all the women looked after each other’s children.

Watch how the beads are made

The first step is buying used magazines and calendars that have been shredded. These women then carefully separate the hundreds of strips into corresponding colours. Next, the ladies tightly roll these slithers of paper and glue each end to secure them into bead shapes. Once they have dried, the beads are varnished and threaded to be hung to dry. Then the beads-to-be are de-strung, re-lacquered and re-threaded (and so on). The process is repeated over and over again.

Constantly sorting beads, these ladies work incredibly hard to make a living. The experienced women can make around 100 necklaces a day, whereas it’s around 60 for the newcomers. They have a strong reputation across the continent, and international traders are often found in Banda buying the beads. Even so, life is not easy for these women and they each earn around 600,000 Ugandan shillings a month.

Surviving on such little income is a challenge in Banda, especially when the primary concern of these women is affording their children’s education. Primary school fees start at £50 a term and the price for further education can be as high as £220, which is an incredible amount for these ladies. A major issue standing in the way of these aspiring entrepreneurs is that as South Sudanese refugees, they are not eligible for loans from Ugandan banks. Fortunately for Josephine the Deki loan has given her the chance to expand her business, making her dream of educating her children through to university a possibility.