It is still a fact of life that in many areas near Gulu, women are considered property. It’s hard to reconcile that this still occurs in 2018, but it does.
When they are not thought of as property, they are still often looked at as second class citizens. If a family has to choose between sending their son or daughter to school because they can only afford to send one child to school, they will often choose to send the boy because he has a better chance of getting a job and earning a living.
To even have a CHANCE at an education, girls have to work doubly hard.
When Leku Ivan threw us a welcome party at his shop one of the things that most excited me was getting to meet his three female colleagues who take care of the books, do the inventory, promote the shop, and create their own items to sell. In other words, who run the world? Girls!
Ivan believes that men and women are equal and within his shop he and his partner, Mike, have established a culture of respect and fairness. That in itself is remarkable.
Meet Sharon, Sharon, and Lynn. Sharon and Sharon are cousins, both named after their grandmother, Sharon. One Sharon is 21 years old and the other is 19, so they call themselves Old Sharon and Young Sharon, naturally. Lynn is just 17 and is Aber Lynn, which means Good Lynn. Sharon and Sharon call Lynn their sister.
During the war when Joseph Kony and the LRA rebels were slaughtering villages of people and abducting women from their homes, Old Sharon’s mother was abducted. She was one of a group of five women who attempted to escape. Three were killed. Two escaped. Old Sharon’s mother was one of the lucky two.
After her escape and the end of the war, Old Sharon’s mother was taught how to make paper beads in order to have a skill to earn a living. Her mother passed this skill down to both Sharons who are now making and selling paper bead jewelry to earn school fees.
Aber Lynn is a war orphan and was living on the streets when Old Sharon found her, and determined that she wasn’t going to let Lynn become a prostitute like so many other young girls on the street. Old Sharon took Lynn to live with her and taught her how to make paper beads, too.
Aber Lynn asked Ivan for a job at Art Factory Gulu and he hired her. It’s always been part of his dream to use art to help homeless kids earn a living and get kids off of the street. Now his dream is coming to fruition and Aber Lynn is safe, employed, and working hard.
After the singing and cake cutting and festivities of the party, I was taking photos of Ivan’s paintings when Old Sharon mustered up her bravery and told me their story. She asked, “Would it be possible for you to buy some of our paper bead jewelry to support us in going to school?” I told her that we already have a Paper Bead Project in Bungatira. She looked crestfallen until I told her, “No, what I mean is that we already know how well the paper bead jewelry sells and we always run out of jewelry and we’d love to partner with you.” She hugged me and asked, “Do you need to consult with your organization?” I said, “We are a board of women who believe in education is for everyone. Believe me, our answer is YES! We have a Work Study Scholarship fund for students like you who have a gift and are willing to put that gift to work to earn school fees. We will buy all of your jewelry, so make as much of it as you can before we return home.” Then Old Sharon replied, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! We will be #teamnosleep because we will just be up all night making jewelry.”
Vigilantes, I honestly don’t know how we are going to do it, but we are determined to buy every necklace, bracelet, and earring from the Art Shop Gulu Girl Beaders because we believe that when you educate a girl, you educate the world. And for us that starts with a pair of Sharons and a seventeen year old named Good Lynn.
Want to support the Art Factory Gulu Girls Work Study Project? Visit our Current Projects page to make a donation to the Work Study Project.