Shop Differently: Krobo Bead Bracelets

I don’t like to be the one to say it, but this a good time to start your holiday shopping. There are 49 days left. And if you have a mother, wife, daughter, aunt, et.al (females), then I’m going to shamelessly tell you that I have something for you to purchase and give them.

I’m not much of a jewelry girl, so I only wear pieces that have a great story behind them. Of course, I wear a ring my husband gave me as a symbol of his commitment to me in marriage, and believe me, that’s a great story. I have a beautiful butterfly necklace that my cousins gave me on the day of my mother’s funeral, because we all knew that – finally – Mom was freed from the cocoon of disease. I wear a pair of earrings that my best friend found on a mission trip to Peru that were made by women in fair trade markets. I also wear a necklace with tiny wood beads (they still smell woodsy) that I purchased on our birthland tour in China last year. On that necklace, I have added a small charm with the shape of Africa on it. These two places – Africa and China – are settled deep in my soul. And now, I wear a bracelet that is strung with beautiful, rustic African beads made in Ghana.

These are Krobo beads, and of course, there is a story behind them.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, then you know that I’ve become connected with this amazing African village, Ankaase, Ghana, where the dirt is red, the air is muggy, the needs are overwhelming, and the people are so gracious and friendly that it turns everything I know upside down. Somewhere between May and October, God wrecked me for this village and the people. I’m now wrapped around six children and their families, a village school, three women who want to become seamstress apprentices, and – truth be told – the rest of the people in Ankaase that I have yet to meet. I don’t have a good way to explain this. I feel as if I’ve been picked up, moved over, and and set back down.

I discovered these beads when my friends Peter and Anna brought me a gift on a visit to Tulsa last July. It was a Krobo Bead bracelet strung with these funky African beads that jumbled together perfectly to create something beautiful. I slipped the bracelet on my wrist, wore it every day, and then decided to do some research.

Here’s a quick course in Krobo beads: They are made in Ghana by artisans who have been handed down the craft through the generations. These artisans create the beads, not inside factories, but using an outdoor oven usually hand constructed from mud. The process goes like this: gather old glass (beer or Milk of Magnesia bottles or Ponds cold cream jars work well), crush the glass into a fine powder and mix it with ceramic dye to make a mixture that is then poured into small molds. Insert a stick from the cassava plant into the middle of each mold mixture, slide the molds into the clay oven with a large spatula, and fire the mixture into a putty-consistency. Then, slide the molds back out, carefully remove each bead from the mold, remove the cassava stick, let the beads cool, wash them, and then begin the paint process. Each layer of paint must be fired, so this is a long, detailed process. The designs are highly individualized, so no two beads are alike.

So Alison and I are making Krobo bead bracelets. We use beads I have purchased in Ghana, and also beads that my friend Melody sells through her sustainability organization in Somanya, Ghana. And we’re selling the bracelets for this purpose:

Here is the SDA School

Here are some students in the SDA School

The government of Ghana mandates that these students take a course called Information and Technology, which focuses on learning computers. That’s a good thing. Every young person, whether they live in Africa or North America, is going to have a better chance to move forward in the world if they have a working knowledge of how to use a computer. Duh. The not-so-good part of this story is that the government of Ghana does not provide schools with computers, so the instructors were teaching computers using a blackboard. Students would sit like this and watch a teacher scribble computer lessons with chalk on a board and these same students had never put their hands on a computer.

How hard can it be to acquire some funds and computers for this school? As it turns out, it wasn’t so difficult. When people learned of the need, they gave, and in three weeks ago we packed six computers in an action packer and hauled them to Ankaase, Ghana. The entire village was pretty excited.

And very grateful.

But also realistic.

They need more computers. They need printers. They need modems (quality IT education must include teaching students to navigate the Internet for additional learning opportunities and research). They need a computer lab that every student in the school can utilize, and a lab that is also open to the entire community. That’s our big dream. And it’s possible.

That’s why we’re selling Krobo Bead bracelets. We want to continue to build this computer lab. The beginnings of this small lab are beautiful.

Here’s a news story that aired last Friday on the computer lab celebration. My friends will tell you I hate the camera, but I did it for the kids.

We don’t want to stop here. If we believe that the children in our U.S. school communities deserve the best resources for learning, then we must believe these children in Ankaase, Ghana are deserving of the same. Ask a child – any child – in this village what school means to them and they’ll be able to tell you. It means the chance to have a better life. They don’t take it for granted. This truth is embedded deep within them and school is where they want to be. For most, it’s their only chance.

So would you consider purchasing a Krobo Bead bracelet? Every cent of this $20 purchase will go toward completing the computer lab. Every 14 bracelets sold will fund a computer. Every 7 bracelets sold will fund a printer. Every 5 bracelets sold will fund Microsoft Office 2010 for a computer. Every 2 bracelets sold will fund a modem for a computer. And every 1 bracelet sold goes toward the purchase of one of these items. I’m scrambling to get these on a store for easier purchase, but for now you can find them here. We’re doing business the old-fashioned way for another week, and then they will be available on StoreEnvy.com where you can pay with a credit card through PayPal. The bracelets come boxed for gift-giving (or if you buy it yourself, take it out, put it on, and save the box for something else). They also include a card to explain that all proceeds go toward the completion of a computer lab for the children of SDA School. These bracelets are a perfect holiday gift and a way to shop differently this holiday season.

And this is not the only product we’re selling to help you shop differently. Stay tuned for another opportunity that has a great story behind it. In the meantime, however, go shopping!

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