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June 26, 2019

First Trip to Uganda with Amanda

Amanda is our Fulfillment Director! She works closely with our Operations Directors in Uganda and Bali to get products, pricing and inventory from there to our office in California. And, she is best-known for her love of animals!

Recently, Amanda travelled to Uganda for the first time to see how operations run at the 31 Bits’ compound in Gulu (where our paper beaded jewelry is made!) We asked her a few questions about the experience and what she learned…

31 Bits Uganda Paper Bead Jewelry

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WORK AT 31 BITS?

I was actually social-stalking 31 Bits for about a year before they finally posted a position I could apply for. I’d been working for a clothing company for six years, and in the last year they were sold to this big corporate conglomerate that put profit first and people second. It was already a struggle being in a job that wasn’t aligned with my values, so when the layoffs and sweeping corporate changes came rolling through, I had that ‘why am I even doing this?’ moment and put all of my after-hours energy into finding work that I could be proud to be a part of.

When I found 31 Bits through a Krochet Kids post, I think I spent more than four hours reading anything and everything I could find. I instantly fell in love with the Acholi women in Uganda, and their spirit through the stories they shared. I knew I needed to be a part of what 31 Bits was doing.

When Bits finally posted a position I was fit for, I spent three days on the application alone! It had to be perfect. At that point I’d already decided they weren’t getting rid of me. If I wasn’t hired, I was going to be at every single volunteer day until they changed their mind. Luckily, I didn’t have to be a creep, and they hired me shortly after the interview.

DID YOU EVER THINK YOU’D GO TO UGANDA?

Haha no! It’s not your average vacation destination, but honestly, it should be. It’s funny, I work with our team in Uganda on a day-to-day basis, but it’s nothing compared to being on the ground. Life moves a little slower in Gulu.

To give perspective, our morning iced coffee orders averaged a solid half hour. But who could be bothered when you get to chat with the local barista, and game-plan for the day while you wait for a truly exceptional coffee. And it’s not just the coffee. Stopping by an artisan’s home for a simple check-in quickly turns into a few hours of chatting over tea, because it’s so easy to get captivated by the conversation. It’s all the little quirks and unexpected connections that happen along the way that make it so incredibly worthwhile to take some extra time to just be present. I think I fell in love.

DID YOU LEARN HOW TO ROLL PAPER BEADS? IS IT HARD?

It is SO hard! There have been times where I’ve had to assemble jewelry, but it is SO difficult to roll a paper bead!

We had a little down time at the 31 Bits compound, so an artisan named Vicky showed me how she rolled our ‘tire’ shaped beads – the thin, disc-like beads used on our Aviva Coin Necklace or Camilla Triple Strand Necklace. I knew exactly how successful I was by the roaring laughter when Vicky and the other ladies took one look at my bead. With Vicky’s help, and many corrections, I almost got our quality team’s approval by my tenth bead or so. It’s definitely not my area of expertise haha. 

TELL US ABOUT ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE WOMEN YOU MET?

I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite person. Corny as it sounds, they are all inspiring women that I’m lucky to have met.

Judith pulled me into our welcome ceremony and it might be the first time I wasn’t embarrassed to dance in public. 

Alobo Prisciline in her soft-spoken and sweet demeanor inspired me to simply just smile more, every time we crossed paths she lit up with a shy smile that you couldn’t help but return.

I was really impressed by one of our graduates, Pauline, who with her earnings from 31 Bits, built a five unit apartment home from the ground up and despite all of the setbacks, is thriving and pursuing other business ventures with her chicken and vegetable farms.

WHAT SKILLS DO THESE WOMEN HAVE THAT YOU DON’T?

Laughter. You don’t have to be in the same room or even speak the same language for their laughter to be contagious. They are silly together, make jokes, and have a lightheartedness that makes it unfathomable to imagine the hardships that existed in the past. 

Perseverance. There have been times I’ve felt defeated, like I was hitting a wall trying so hard and getting nowhere. But these women rise above all of that and more. Sometimes a crop doesn’t come to fruition or rice doesn’t sell at the marketplace, but they continue to innovate and course-correct to make sure their kids can stay in school and they are able to provide for their families. That is an incredible strength. 

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM MEETING THE ARTISANS? BEING IN UGANDA?

Having not traveled much before going to Uganda, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. There were definitely some grounding moments along our six hour drive from the airport in Kampala to our office in Gulu.

I’ve researched, read, and watched documentaries, but as with any experience, it’s hard to understand the reality until you see it for yourself. That goes for both the good and the not so good.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OUR CUSTOMERS KNEW ABOUT THESE WOMEN? ARTISAN-MADE GOODS?

There’s something really special about knowing where your stuff comes from. It’s why we shop organic. Why we don’t trust those shady 1-star amazon sellers. It’s when you get a compliment on an accessory and feel compelled to tell your admirer where they can get one of their own.

There’s a deeper level of sentiment because it’s not just about what you bought, it’s about where it came from too. 31 Bits’ beads come from real women, joking and laughing while rolling paper into beads, who all work so hard to make every piece of jewelry perfect. Handmade products all tend to have their own sense of character.

Whether people are interested in trends, their footprint, or a social cause, I’d like to see a shift in market expectations that is more open-minded when it comes to artisan-made, ethically-sourced goods.

WOULD YOU GO BACK TO UGANDA?

Of course!

SHOP THE PAPER BEAD JEWELRY ETHICALLY-MADE BY WOMEN IN UGANDA