We are achieving 100% impact by empowering women in Uganda to rise above poverty!
How we started
In 2009 I (Stella Romana Airoldi) visited Uganda for the first time to do research for my International Law thesis about Girl child soldiers within the LRA. I met women living in the Acholi Quarter of Kampala; a camp for internally displaced persons who fled from the war in Northern Uganda many years ago. I was touched by the stories of the Acholi women and very impressed by their artistic skills to make beautiful jewellery out of recycled paper. Every year I orded some jewellery to give to my friends and family. Then a few years later all started with a fun photoshoot in the living room of my mother: 22STARS WAS BORN! I decided to use my own creativity to help those ladies design, market and sell their products on the international market. By the end of 2012 I went back to Uganda and took my friend Lianne with me. I selected a few ladies to start working with and my Ugandan friends David and Moses decided to join the 22STARS team since they know the Acholi Quarters very well. In 2015 I started with a second group of women to make jewellery, they live in the Danida slum in Jinja, as they are not living in the Acholi Quarter and were not post war victim, they are not part of the project, but they are empowered to rise above poverty by giving them a market for their products.
About our artisans
When we started the project we worked only with one group of artisans in The Acholi Quarter (internally displaced camp) in Kampala, Uganda. But since our ambassadors moved to Jinja in East Uganda and we quickly had to upscale our production, we decided to get a second group of women on board, who are living in extreme poverty in the Danida slum of Jinja. Our two dedicated teams of artisans are made up by 25 strong women who had to overcome many challenges in their life. Most of them have had no education and have HIV/AIDS and fled from war. Some of the designers are still a bit shy, while others are proud and confident. But they have one thing in common: they all carry a big smile. Their support and help for each other is beautiful. They form an incredible source of creativity, energy and positive power producing these wonderful pieces of jewellery. They are truly inspiring for anyone who wants to reach for the stars.
Meet our 22STARS ARTISANS
Meet the women who make your jewellery! Every hand-crafted piece you purchase is made by one of the 22STARS empowered women, and 100% of product sales are reinvested in the social mission to empower them and their families in Uganda. The designs are made by Stella Romana Airoldi together with the women in Uganda. Our two dedicated teams of artisans are made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda. They had to overcome many challenges in their life. Most of them have had no education, are affected by HIV/AIDS and fled from war. Each of their story is unique and they form an incredible source of creativity, energy and positive power producing these wonderful pieces of jewellery. They are truly inspiring for anyone who wants to reach for the stars.
Meaning of 22STARS
Since the founder of 22STARS, Stella, was little girl 22 had always been her lucky number and she loves sleeping under the stars. In some Myths 22 is potentially the most successful of all numbers and it can turn the most ambitious dreams into reality. Stars symbolize how everything is interconnected in this world. Whether we live in Europe or in Africa, we all can see the stars. For our artisans in Uganda stars mean hope, guidance, protection and balance. We also want you to turn your dreams into reality! Hopefully our jewellery and stories will inspire you to reach for the stars!
Our jewellery is made from recycled paper!
Preserving our environment is high on our list. Therefore we love to use raw materials to make our jewellery. Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products. This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.
Our artisans start with ideas, or we provide them with designs on paper. Then they buy old magazines and posters in the colours they need in a small warehouse in Kampala. There is a big difference in pricing of the papers and also in the quantity they need per jewellery item, therefore precise calculation is necessary. In addition to the paper our artisans need to buy other materials as well, such as clasps, glass beads, wooden handles, spirals, strings, glue and varnish.
When the women have the right paper, they use a pencil and ruler to measure the paper and mark it up. Then they cut out pieces in a triangular shape. A bit of glue is put on top of the triangle and then the paper is rolled up around a needle. It needs a lot of practice to master this procedure the process to ensure symmetry in the beads is very time consuming. To make paper beads with different shapes the women vary the size and shape of the paper triangle. When they have a whole string with paper beads together they vanish them a few times to make them waterproof and shiny. Once the beads are ready, they are beaded together with different glass beads creating beautiful designs.
The Project in the Acholi Quarters
We believe that to really empower people to provide for themselves they need more than only a market for their jewellery. And this is especially the case for the Acholi Quarters, it is really a challenge working with designers who have no phone, no email address, had little education, are HIV positive, war traumatized, cannot read and write, speak only Acholi and have very large families. Part of our net profit will therefor be used to finance our 22STARS projects, educating our designers and their children; they receive English lessons, learn about Income Generating Activities (IGA), get social support, health education and music, dance and drama classes. As 22STARS is still a small business we provide the following activities only occasionally and not as often as we would like to. Therefore if you like to donate to our program or are interested in volunteering and helping us with the following program, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jewellery designing: Our designers made already beautiful jewellery from recycled paper, however we are training them on making new designs and improving their quality. Using different types of paper and making different styles of beads. Only by making unique high quality designs they are able to sell on the highly competitive jewellery market. Also we help them with the pricing of the jewellery. As some paper is way more expensive for them to buy then other kind of paper we explain them for which designs which material is the best to use. We give them an insight in marketing and selling strategies and show them how to have a smart business. Of course some of our designers prefer to only roll paper beads, and tell us that it is for them too difficult to learn new designs. We respect this and of course we let them stay in our program and make sure they can do the work they like so they will still be able to earn money for their families.
- Adult literacy program:Uganda’s official languages are English and Swahili. However, most of our designers have never had the opportunity to learn English, because they could not afford to get an education. They mostly speak only Acholi, a language spoken in Northern Uganda. During times of war in the North our designers fled to Kampala, and started living with all other Acholi in an IDP camp: the Acholi Quarters. However, the people in Kampala do not speak Acholi, but English or their local language Luganda. So therefore the Acholi people are highly discriminated against. The language barrier severely restricts their chances of having a good career. To change this situation, we will offer them English lessons. Also most of our designers do not know how to write and read, as they grow up during times of war, they never went to school. We help them improve on their reading and writing skills, that at least they can start recognizing numbers and are able to place their signature under payment bills.
- Income generating Activities (IGA): Most of our designers live in the Acholi Quarter in extreme poverty and have little understanding of how to save money, budget their family’s needs or how to open a bank account. They need training in how to save their money and how to set goals for the future. We teach them how to invest their savings in other income generating activities. We want them to be able to join an existing business beyond 22STARS or to start their own business next to the bead making. For example Beatrice started to buy chicken and sell their eggs; Susan learned how to farm land and is selling her products, and Atim is saving up money for a bigger hairdryer to improve her business as hairdresser. We will teach them income generating activities (IGA) like poultry farming, piggery, and modern farming techniques and guiding them in the process of identifying their talents and skills.
- Social support: Our designers live in extreme circumstances and have lost many family members. They have suffered abuse and are traumatized by the effects of the war. So we want to make sure that they receive psychological, mental and emotional help. What is revealed heals, but what is hidden kills. It is a very powerful therapy that somebody is there that listens to your stories. Our counsellors Moses and David both have experience in HIV/Aids counselling; they provide the designers with advice and guidance on how to stay healthy and take their medicines. Aida is available to women for one-to-one counselling about issues they don’t feel comfortable to share with men or in a group. When the women share their stories with each other they can see that others had the same sufferings and struggles and they can encourage each other and give advice. Beatrice for example has been living with Aids since 30 years now. She helps other young women who have just discovered that they are HIV positive how they can live with it in a positive way and that it doesn’t mean the end.
- Health Education: In addition to the social support we also educate our designers on health. Many of the women have been sick or have children who are sick. Besides medicine they often lack information about various health topics such as nutrition, prenatal care, Aids/HIV, hygiene, and family planning. In addition there are several “Reach-Out” organizations close to where the ladies live, that provide free counseling and medicine for HIV/Aids. We encourage the women to go there.
- Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) classes: All our designers shared with us that what they really love is singing and dancing. So we offer them music, dance and drama classes. This enables them to relax, reducing their worries and rising the hope to live. This is a fun time for all the women and their children and it is also a time of sharing and healing for the women.
History of Uganda
All our artisans live in Uganda: a country on the equator in East Africa. It is enclosed by South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Congo-Kinshasa. Since its independence in 1962 from the United Kingdom, it has know a violent history. The country’s history is tainted by people such as Idi Amin, who in the 70’s made hundreds of thousands of victims, and Joseph Kony who terrorized the North of Uganda between 1988 and 2006 with his Lord’s Resistance Army, consisting mainly of child soldiers, and who is still active in the neighbouring countries.
There is peace in Uganda now and we can even see a little progress, but the consequences of the violence in the Northern regions are still felt every day and make returning impossible. During the war, thousands of people fled to the South of Uganda. Many of these refugees ended up in Internal Displaced Person’s Camps (IDP’s). One of those camps, which is located just outside the capital Kampala, is known as the Acholi Quarter where 10.000 people live. The camp is named because the majority of people come from Acholiland in the North. Most of our 22STARS designers live here.
It is rarely being called a camp anymore, it is regarded more as a neighborhood. There are shops, barbershops, cafés and bars. Everything in miniature format for the space in the quarter is very limited. In that respect the Acholi Quarter is a neighbourhood like any other one. But unfortunately, this neighbourhood is nothing more than a piece of land that was given by the king to his people out of generosity. The district is overcrowded and occasionally cholera epidemics break out. There are neglected children walking around and there is a lot of drunkenness in the small main street. And just as in most slums and other IDP’s, sanitary facilities are completely inadequate, people suffer psychological traumas, there is a lack of education, a lot of people suffer from HIV and aids, there is no infrastructure, and the streets are littered with waste. Most of the houses are not more than hovels. Only 1 in 4000 houses have electricity and even less have running water. When it rains the whole area turns into a big mess because of its location on a hill, where the water keeps running down.
Because of the lack of opportunities a lot of women are forced to earn their living breaking rocks under very bad working conditions. Their daily wage is the equivalence of about 75 euro cents. They don’t earn enough to pay for health insurance, education or to save up for the future. They hardly earn enough to pay for their basic necessities such as food and shelter. It is virtually impossible to escape this poverty, with their biggest concern that without education their children await the same fate. But, surprisingly, also in these Acholi Quarters you will find a lot of energetic positive minded women, fighting for a better future for themselves and their children. Among these women are the 22STARS designers creating beautiful jewellery out of 100% recycled paper. We help them with support, education and a way to market their products internationally.
Besides the group of designers in the Acholi Quarter, we started working with a second group of very talented and inspirational designers in the Danida slum in Jinja, in Eastern Uganda. This group exists of about 20 women who are all part of a women’s group of the church of god. They all live in Danida in Jinja; one of the poorest slums in that area. Most of the women were born there, some others moved to this area. Because the jewellery market is that small for them they also have little jobs next to the making of the jewellery. They are struggling to earn enough money to put on food on the table and have a bright future. Therefore we want to provide them with a larger market so they can fully sustain from the jewellery business. The team leader of the group divides the orders amongst the women equally. Every woman buys the material for her own order. Then also the rolling, fixing and varnishing is done by every group member herself. The ladies do not only make jewellery for the market, but they also love to wear the jewellery themselves. Especially on Sunday’s when they dress up for the church they love to wear some of their own pieces.
Our mission is to design and sell high quality jewellery made with respect for the environment and the people that make them. We want to help people out of poverty by making sure that they can provide for themselves. Therefore, we work side-by-side with our two group of designers who live in the Acholi Quarter in Kampala and in the Danida slum in Jinja(Uganda). Together we apply our passions, talents and ideas. By giving our designers a plan to market and sell their products internationally they are able to earn money for food, housing, medicine and school fees. We believe that to really empower people to provide for themselves they need more than that: part of our net profit will therefore be used in the Acholi Quarter to finance our 22STARS projects, educating our designers and their children; they receive English lessons, learn about Income Generating Activities (IGA), get social support, and music, dance and drama classes. In addition we are also looking for other organizations on the ground that can help our women in learning small businesses skills and give them HIV/Aids counseling.
New creative thinking; get rid of the box! 22STARS believes that new thinking and new ideas are everything. We empower our team to take initiative and give their best. We don’t just think outside of the box, but are getting rid of it. Everyone in our team is committed in his or her heart and mind. From the very beginning, 22STARS has placed the utmost importance on the freedom for creativity and celebrating small successes in our journey to achieve big. These is why we are continuously improving our organisation and products and are having fun.
Transparent, honest and integer! 22STARS commits itself to act with honesty and integrity without compromising the truth. All our team members and designers are open, candid and truthful. We all do what we say and live up to the highest standard of fair and ethical behaviour. 22STARS seeks feedback from all directions to achieve open communication and foster collaboration. We are proactive in communicating up, down, and across the entire organization.
We care! 22STARS prefers fair-trade jewellery that is made with respect for our environment and the people that make them. Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Moreover, we are firmly rooted in the local community in which we operate. This means that we treat the people around us with the greatest degree of care and empower them with income and education. Besides poverty eradication, we also value that the making of this jewellery restores the dignity of these women, and helping others to recognize the most vulnerable as truly human.