In 2008, Amanda Page traveled far from home with a team from her church to meet ladies who spoke a language she did not even speak. As Executive Director of Aggie’s Arts in the United States, she was excited to finally meet them. Here Amanda tells the story of one woman she will never forget.
I met Sylvia six years ago on my first trip to Uganda. She was one of the ladies who made the paper beads I’d been selling for the past year. Standing with a group of about a dozen women, Sylvia stood out to me because her slender body made her pregnancy obvious. Her countenance told a sad story. I could see in her eyes that she experienced things in her life I had only read about. Indeed, her story was a heartbreaking one.
Running From War
Most of the Aggie’s Arts artisans were refugees who had moved to Kampala from home villages in Northern Uganda. Sylvia, her husband and five children had escaped the ethnic cleansing that was happening at the hands of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
She appeared to be about my age, 29. I tried to imagine myself in her shoes. I had three small children, but unlike Sylvia I lived in a comfortable home with all the securities and luxuries that come with middle-class living in the States. As I looked at Sylvia, I saw sadness. I saw agony. I saw hopelessness.
Like many of the refugees, Sylvia worked in a rock quarry. Aggie’s Arts was striving to get the ladies out, but as our bead purchases only provided part-time employment, many of the artisans still had to work the quarry. They earned pennies working hours and hours in the hot sun pounding rocks by hand down into gravel. It is dangerous, monotonous, grim work. Deadly even. These ladies who stood before me had lost family members in the war, had been forced out of their homeland and now pounded rocks for a living. These women felt hopeless. They were literally at rock bottom.
The Truth Changes Things
On the day I met Sylvia, our team leader was speaking with the Aggie’s Arts artisans, and the message he had for them wasn’t new. Aggie Paech, founder and leader of Aggie’s Arts, had shared it with them many times before, yet not all believed. But that day, many of the ladies made decisions to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Sylvia was one of them. I watched as she raised her hand and thought about how her unborn child would be forever affected.
When I returned to Uganda for a second time in 2011, I couldn’t wait to see the child that Sylvia was carrying when we first met three years earlier. It was a little girl. She was healthy and happy. And Sylvia’s countenance was truly that of a new woman. She was holding her head high!
She had not only continued to make and sell paper beads, but she had also begun a small store in front of her house. Sylvia had become an entrepreneur! Every morning Sylvia goes into town to buy fresh fruit and fish. In front of her house, she has a small stall where she sells the items to her neighbors at a profit. The revenue she earned from Aggie’s Arts gave Sylvia enough seed money to begin this other venture and to care for other family needs.
Better And Better For Sylvia
Since that first trip, I have traveled to Uganda five times to visit the Aggie’s Arts artisans. Each time I go, I see improvement in Sylvia’s living conditions and business ventures. I’ve seen great improvements in the quality of her artwork as well as growth in her grocery stand. More importantly, each time I see Sylvia, she is standing a little bit taller. She has grown in her faith. She regularly attends church services and has been discipled by Aggie through the years.
Now Sylvia is proud of what she has accomplished in her life. She is proud of who she is. She is no longer defeated by circumstances around her. This drive in Sylvia’s life began when Aggie’s Arts purchased paper bead jewelry from her. It seems like such a small thing, but sometimes small things can snowball into huge things. That’s what has happened in Sylvia’s life.
Gifts That Matter
So, when you’re shopping for graduation, birthday or anniversary presents, seek out a gift that not only blesses your friend or family member, but also literally changes the lives of the people who made them – and their future generations. Aggie’s Arts is available in many retail stores, which are listed on our website and Facebook page.
When you’re looking for a place to volunteer your time and talents, think of us.
Operating an international non-profit is not an easy task. It takes many volunteers with many different skills and talents. It’s not just about jewelry, so we need men too. We have many tasks that can be done at our office on Marscheutz, but you don’t have to come down to volunteer. There are plenty of things you can assist us with remotely from home. We would love to hear from you!