Jewelry project benefits Ugandan sex trade survivors

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

One Columbia student is using her academic and entrepreneurial skills to help victims of human trafficking halfway around the world.

Hannah Kardux, a senior fashion studies major, is raising money for the Kwagala Project, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of human trafficking in Uganda by selling their handmade jewelry.

Most days, Kardux sets up a table with the colorful necklaces, earrings and bracelets in the lobby of the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building. She said the jewelry will be sold through the fall semester.

The Kwagala Project, founded by executive director Kristen Hendricks in 2008, works directly with survivors through its scholarships and rehabilitative residence that encourages personal, entrepreneurial and intellectual growth, Hendricks said. “Kwagala” means “love” in Luganda, a native language of Uganda.

“Our [Columbia] students are focusing on their education [and on] bettering themselves,” said Julie Hillery, a professor in the Fashion Studies Department who connected Hendricks with Columbia. “That’s what the Kwagala Project is about, trying to help the girls get an education. In turn, they can become community leaders and help girls coming behind them.”

Marelyn Garcia, executive assistant for the Chicago Dream Project’s transitional living program, said efforts like these dispel the idea in some countries

that trafficking is okay. The Dream Project offers its own ministry for trafficking survivors

“[Trafficking] is a profitable business,” Garcia said. “This project will [break] the mind-set that this is the only way out [of poverty].”

Hendricks said parents with many children sometimes sell their daughters to human trafficking rings to feed their other family members. According to Kardux, the average age of trafficked girls is 11 years old.

Bracelets cost $5-10, earrings are $10 for two pairs, and “manly” bracelets are two for $10, she said.

She added that the price of sending a Kwagala girl to school and providing her with a safe place to live for a year is approximately $2,500.

“When you break it down, it’s $6.85 a day to give her love and everything else that she didn’t have before,” Kardux said. “[If] you look at it that way … one necklace supports three girls for a day.”

Kardux got involved with Kwagala after a meeting with Hillery and Hendricks. Hillery thought Kardux’s role as president of the Columbia College Fashion Association and the group’s various philanthropic efforts made her a potential ally in the fight against trafficking.

Kardux is now using her entrepreneurship class to take action. During the course, each student pitches a business idea, a handful of which are picked as a project that a small group works on all semester.

Kardux pitched the Kwagala fund-raiser to her class, and it was chosen to become a startup. It is currently competing with other projects to see which will generate the most revenue. The winning group will donate half of the class’s earnings to its charity of choice.

Hillery said the paper jewelry Hendricks wore when they met inspired her to involve students in the Kwagala Project. Paper jewelry is popular in Uganda, Hendricks said.

Hendricks and her partners in Kampala, Uganda’s capital,  see jewelry-making as a viable and profitable skill for girls to learn.

“Kwagala tries to get these girls to express themselves through their art, and that’s kind of what we’re all about,” Kardux said. “That’s our opportunity to draw attention to [human trafficking] and give the girls making the jewelry recognition.”