Crafts by Youth

| Scene Online Editor

Imagine having the talent and drive needed to reach your goals but the inability to achieve success due to intense economic and environmental hardships. This is the tragic predicament that countless youths living in Uganda are facing right now. Many of these youths go hungry for most of a given week, are orphaned or live in precarious family environments, and are unable to afford school.

During an internship made possible through GlobeMed and the grassroots organization Uganda Developmental and Health Associates (UDHA), sophomores Akhila Narla and Preethi Kembaiyan witnessed firsthand the poverty that the Ugandan youth face. While they were in Uganda, Narla and Kembaiyan were asked to help in a youth center set up by the UDHA to aid in the development of an income-generating project for the youth. In order to find out the best way to go about this, Narla and Kembaiyan went to the Olin Business School’s Skandalaris Center, where they were told to get in touch with an organization called Blessing Baskets.

“[Blessing Baskets] does this unique thing in that they sell handicrafts, but they provide the artisans three times fair trade wages,” Narla said. “They call it ‘prosperity wages,’ so it’s really trying to break the cycle of poverty for [the youth] and spur a little entrepreneurship.”

Applying this idea to the youths of the Ugandan youth center who were already making handicraft jewelry, Narla and Kembaiyan spearheaded the Crafts by Youth project. In this program, the jewelry made by the youths is sold to promote much-needed income.

“[The youths] make environmentally friendly, recycled paper jewelry; they take posters, magazines and advertisements, and they cut up and roll them into beads. Then they garnish them and make the jewelry [out of the paper],” Narla said.

This process allows the participating youth to earn money through a stable work-type environment so that they can support themselves instead of settling into the role of “receivers” of charity. In this way, the program works in a practical way, something that GlobeMed and its affiliates focus on. Here, the buyers of the jewelry pieces are, in a sense, working alongside the youth and empowering them to face their economic barriers head-on as opposed to relying heavily on donations.

“[Crafts by Youth] is just something that is propelling [the youth] toward a goal that they want to reach,” Narla said. “We’re hoping that the sales will generate enough so that they’re able to prove some of the basics for their families, but also emphasizing the fact that their parents do have an obligation as the providers.”

A major goal of Crafts by Youth is to allow the participants to earn enough money to attend school so that they can continue their education.

“While we recognize the importance of a free clinic, we knew that without opportunities for an education, these youth wouldn’t be able to escape the cycle of poverty that we witness within their families and their community,” Kembaiyan said. “That’s why we started Crafts by Youth, to ensure that the youth had a steady source of income, through which they could meet their immediate needs while also saving for their futures, so that they might be able to realize their dreams of becoming nurses, pharmacists, social workers and businessmen.”

Currently, Crafts by Youth is participating in the Youth Bridge Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition, which is co-sponsored through the Skandalaris Center, in order to earn outside support to ensure the success of their program. The group is one of seven finalists in the competition, in which five monetary awards are given out. Those in the U.S. can directly help Ugandan youths as well by hosting Crafts by Youth fundraisers or simply by purchasing the jewelry the youths make.

“What’s unique about the Crafts by Youth model is that we serve as an avenue for socially conscious youth in the U.S. to engage their passion for social change halfway around the world,” Kembaiyan said. “We hope to use our Web page as a platform for youth around the world to engage in a dialogue over issues that they feel are relevant and to discuss what they feel the role of youth is in securing rights for our generation, regardless of where we live.”

For more information about Crafts by Youth, upcoming events, or to see the online store, click here, or find the organization through their Facebook page.

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