Bead making project shielding Namibian women from poverty amid COVID-19


Women living with disabilities are breaking barriers and making beads from recycled glass in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, a skill that has changed their lives and shielded them from poverty amid COVID-19 pandemic.

45-year-old Maria Kooper who is one of the three women who form part of a glass bead project in the craft centre for the hearing impaired says the initiative has pulled her out of poverty and given her a purpose in life as she is now able to fend for herself and not be a burden to her family.

“I was unemployed, broke and miserable but since joining this group I am happy. I now have a purpose in life. I am even making money and I can take care of myself,” she said.

The women make beads from recycled wine and beer bottles, a process which involves cleaning, pounding and melting glass before polishing it by rubbing it through the sand before making beautiful, unique handmade jewellery.

“We take glass and grind it with a stone to turn it into a fine glass powder before sorting the pieces of glass according to their colors. After, we take the splinters and powder and put them into molds then we bake in the clay oven until the glass is a red hot liquid,” she said.

Once the glass has been liquefied, the moulds are taken out of the oven and the holes for stringing the beads are made using a piece of a broomstick with long nails at the end before turning the beads in the mould giving it a round shape.

“The process is not that complicated, you just need to be quick with your hands to make sure you turn the liquefied glass in the mold before it hardens,” she said.

The beads are made into necklaces, bracelets and earrings and are sold to tourists visiting the craft centre.

Before becoming part of the bead-making project in 2006, Kooper, who did not know any sign language and felt she was too old to attend school, attended the bead-making workshops and by watching her fellow students, she taught herself sign language.

Today the shy woman is a confident participant at the project who is at work every day, not only improving her bead-making skills but also her sign language skills.

The bead making project also gives travelers visiting the craft centre an opportunity to learn about the process hands on while interacting with the women.

In a previous interview, deputy Minister of Disability Affairs Alexia Manombe-Ncube said persons with disability in most cases face unprecedented challenges when it comes to competing for employment. Citing there should be targeted programs and policies aimed at facilitating opportunities for employment for persons with disability.

She said that the advent of COVID-19 made it very difficult for people with disabilities to access services as they already faced multiple challenges to health, safety, food security and livelihood.

According data from the United Nations in Namibia, unemployment among disabled people currently stands at a record 39 percent while persons with disabilities amount to five percent of the population which is roughly about 120,000 persons out of population of 2.5 million.

The UN said, this leads to higher rates of poverty, increased dependency and less legal protection. Enditem

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