Necklaces for Uganda

Compassion and generosity compel Wara to help others

12/12/2007 - By: Guia Del Prado

Stevi Wara, 22, is an enterprising journalism student. She's deeply involved in her field, taking on internships and working with media professionals. But Wara's enthusiasm spans more than her journalistic interests. In early August, she participated in a program that brought her to Uganda. Now she is helping a Ugandan family and dozens of orphaned children in a big way: Wara sells necklaces.

Wara signed up for a three-week trek into Uganda with the Global Youth Partnership for Africa. The program brought 14 American students and 14 Ugandan students together to collaborate and promote knowledge and understanding. Wara and the other participants stayed in the capital city of Uganda, Kampala, and then made their way to Gulu, an area where the civil war that ended five years ago had the most impact.

"Uganda was in a long civil war," Wara said. "Now they are worried about development issues and picking up from the war."

Wara and the other participants worked with non-government organizations and met with governmental departments such as the Ministry of Health. She also visited refugee camps. Wara met with war survivors and former abducted citizens. During the civil war the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel guerrilla army operating mainly in northern Uganda and parts of Sudan, has been charged with numerous human rights violations, including mutilation, torture, rape, the abduction of civilians and the use of children as soldiers.

"These people had a really hard experience but I saw nothing but resilience from them," Wara said. "They overcame that and now want to give back to the community."

Along the way, Wara met Mark Odokuo, a Ugandan who was also participating in the Global Youth Partnership. Odokuo lived in the refugee camp Nomowango with his ever-growing family. She took to him immediately.

"He has such great ideas to fix the political problems there," Wara said. "He is an entrepreneur. He has every hurdle against him but he still has high hopes."

It must be in his genes. The Odokuo family has adopted orphaned refugees and former abductees. The Odokuo family takes children of all ages in and teaches them skills such as simple math and reading.

He and his brothers volunteer to teach in this growing school, which has about 60 students.

Wara, wanting to help, volunteered to sell bead necklaces in the United States that the family was making. The bead necklaces are now helping to fund the school.

"I really thought about it," Wara said. "I only had five days left in Uganda. I told Mark to make as many as he could and I would sell them."

In the first three weeks back stateside, Wara had sold about 200 and took in profits of $500. When she wired the $500 back to the Odokuos, they sent her more necklaces, about 1,500 of them.

The Reynolds School of Journalism faculty has been integral in helping Wara, particularly Sally Echeto, her adviser. Wara showed Echeto the necklaces. She bought a few and hosted a party at her home for other faculty members to look over the collection and buy necklaces. Echeto also keeps a box of necklaces in her office for anyone who is interested.

"Between my daughter and I, we have 15 necklaces," Echeto said. "They make wonderful gifts, too."

Echeto said the necklaces are a great way to contribute to charity and be fashionable at the same time.

"To think that just buying them you're helping little kids you would never have been able to help before," Echeto said. "Every time you wear them, you can think about the little kids you're helping.

Each necklace is unique and handmade. Wara sells longer necklaces for $20, shorter necklaces for $15 and bracelets for $10. She also sells 10 necklaces in bulk for $100.

Wara doesn't profit from the hours selling the necklaces. One hundred percent of the profits are wired back to the Odokuo family. In late November, she wired back $2,000.

"I wish I was there to see their faces when they get the money," Wara said. "I've been really lucky in my life and now I have the chance to give that to someone else."

Echeto recognizes Wara's generous spirit and is impressed by it.

"Out of the kindness of her heart, she's doing this," Echeto said. "That's just the type of person she is."

Apart from selling the necklaces, Wara will be graduating this semester. She has plans to either attend graduate school in Boston or France. She may also pick up on a business plan she and business student Jocelyn Pulido put together and entered into the he Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup Business Plan Competition.

Under the guide of professors Edward Lenert, Mary Jurkonis and business advisor John Burkich, Wara and Pulido placed as one of the seven finalists and won $1,000. The project they entered into the competition was for a Latina networking website called ParaFamilia.com.

"It provides Latina mothers a place where they can exchange and support each other," Wara said. "The website also provides a perfect place to advertisers and marketers who want to reach a specific Latina community."

Whether Wara decides to follow in a career in health communications or to build the Para Familia website, there is no doubt that she will accomplish great things.

"It's remarkable," Echeto said. "To see someone as young as her doing the things she's done."


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