I visited the Global Village yesterday, the public portion of the 2006 International AIDS Conference. There was a performance stage, a public seminar space, and booths from an enormous array of activist organizations. While I was there, an African vocal group was performing, filling the huge hall with ringing harmonies. I wandered through the booths, where every region on earth and every community affected by AIDS was represented. It was overwhelming, inspiring, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.

When I first got there, I saw people selling t-shirts and handicrafts, and it made me uncomfortable. I thought, this isn't a crafts fair, we shouldn't be treating this like another commercial enterprise. I kept my distance from those booths. Later I felt easier about it, realizing that all the organizations are fundraising, and sales is one tool with which to do that.

I'm glad I got past that discomfort, or else I would have missed something truly remarkable: BeadforLife. Bead For Life works with impoverished women in Uganda, who make beaded jewelry. The necklaces, bracelets and other beadwork are vibrant, brilliant pieces. They are all made from recycled magazines, and their profits are reinvested in their community. The organization raises money mainly through house parties held at homes in North America.

From their website:
BeadforLife is a poverty eradication project connecting people in Uganda and North America to work together for the mutual benefit of all. BeadforLife believes true and sustained change can happen when we are willing to work together with our African neighbors to find solutions to extreme poverty. As a grassroots organization, we believe citizens in developed countries care about the problem of extreme poverty and welcome an opportunity to alleviate it. In our experience, all benefit from this exchange.

On our website you will find stories about fascinating and beautiful people both in Uganda and in the United States. Check out Meet the Beaders. Our beaders and tailors are primarily impoverished women who are hard working, intelligent, and strong in their desire to improve their lives. They make gorgeous handcrafted paper beads and turn them into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Our tailors make elegant jewelry bags from hand printed cotton fabrics. BeadforLife also sponsors community development projects in the areas of health, education, vocational training, affordable housing, and savings programs.

BeadforLife is guided by the following principles:

1. Creating jobs through local partnerships is a more sustainable approach to poverty eradication than providing aid. Rather than become dependent on handouts from abroad, the beaders build their skills and long-term capacities through meaningful creative work.

2. Concerned citizens in resource abundant countries care about the issues of extreme poverty and are willing to get involved.

3. Paying our beaders fair trade prices allows them to meet their daily economic needs. Investing 100% of our net profits in community development projects for impoverished Ugandans allows for a long-term sustainable future.

4. Forming partnerships between North Americans and Ugandans beaders enriches all of us.
I bought a necklace and a bracelet - I love beadwork, and these are simply beautiful - and I'm thinking about hosting a party. I've never done anything like that, but I find the idea really intriguing.

As I said, I found the Global Village somewhat overwhelming, and although I was glad I went, I was also glad to leave. I went over to the Church & Wellesley area to meet our friend "A" for coffee at the Bulldog Cafe, recommended by friend of wtmc Alex E. (I haven't gotten A's permission to post about her yet, so we'll leave it at that.) Later, Allan and A's partner "S" met us, and we had dinner at the strangely-named Salad King, which serves not salads, but excellent Thai food.

A & S, another opposite-sex couple who left the US for Canada, found us through my essay in the Globe & Mail. (OK Lone Primate, there's another one!) It turns out they landed in Canada exactly three days before us, so we were celebrating our upcoming one-year anniversaries.

We mostly talked about how much we love it here, and how much more sane Canada is than the US. There are so many little things, things you can't really appreciate unless you've lived in that insanity. More on that later.

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