In Ethiopia, being female and HIV-positive can be a double whammy: Many women are ostracized from their communities as well as getting sick. Raven and Lily is trying to help HIV-positive women by giving them jobs making jewelry from bullet casings and coins.
This is how it works: The company works with three different village communities in Ethiopia. Farmers gather artillery shells from former war conflicts as they plow their fields. They then sell the bullet casings to the villagers skilled in the traditional techniques of bead making. These farmers and villagers live in very remote parts of Ethiopia, so the beads are always brought to the main cities to be sold.
Raven and Lily bypasses the city markets and works directly with the bead makers to ensure they are the ones getting the most money for their craftsmanship. “I love the imperfect beauty of each hand-made bead,” says co-founder Kirsten Dickerson. “It’s really amazing to me that what was once meant for harm now brings hope and life to the HIV-positive women in our partnership.” You can see the process of turning bullets into jewelry in the slide show above.
The company also works in India and is launching a new product line in Cambodia. Dickerson says that the process of partnering takes some time. “When we decide to partner with a group of women who have learned a design skill, one of the first things we do is assess what types of locally made materials the women can utilize,” she says. “We really try as much as possible to ensure that not only the women in our direct trade partnership are receiving fair wages, but also the communities that produce the base materials.”
Dickerson says that the company goes beyond fair wages and works with the communities to ensure that the women and their families have access to health care, education, savings accounts, and a community that doesn’t shun them. “We are able to witness firsthand the transformation that is happening in the lives of these women and their families,” she says.