It was October 2005, and professional photographer Karen Sparacio was in Uganda. She was there to photograph a relief organization. Ayaa Grace, an Alhcoli woman, invited her to visit the Acholi Quarter. What the Sparacio saw changed her life and, soon, the lives of hundreds of Ugandans as well.
Sparacio took in the creative and colorful jewelry that these women were making out of what little they had. She brought some of the jewelry back with her to the states to see if she could sell some of these beaded works of art to help raise money for the women. The few she brought with her sold quickly, and she returned to Uganda in January 2006, to initiate the beginnings of Project Have Hope.
The Acholi Quarter was a rundown civilization, a slum, outside of Kampla. The state people live in was unparalleled to the sincere and pure souls that the photographer saw there. Sparacio spent two and a half weeks photographing the Alcholi women and capturing the illuminating spirits of the women in this slum.
Project Have Hope is based in Malden, Mass. Sparacio learned the unique craft of the Alcholi women and took back these skills with her to the United States. Like the Acholi women, she and other volunteers make colorful beads out of recycled paper. She then sells the jewelry at local craft fairs and online at www.projecthavehope.org.
Project Have Hope has helped hundreds of women since its inception in 2006. With the money earned from jewelry sales and donations, Project Have Hope has created programs that provide women with the skills to work and become educated; the organization also rekindles the hope that may have faded from these women along the way. With the money raised, Project Have Hope started a literacy program for 22 women who had never before even stepped inside a classroom. Karen Sparacio’s organization also began a vocational training program. Currently, 18 women are enrolled, and when the training is complete, they will receive a loan that will enable them to immediately start their lives in the working world.
What began as a small loans program for 30 women to start small businesses, has grown to a “high risk jumbo loan,” for women with strong and viable business ideas. The high risk loan will take these women two years to repay.
“[The main goal of Project Have Hope] was to help women create something that is sustainable once I’m gone,” Sparacio said. “Realistically, I know I can’t do this work forever. So my goal is to help provide the women with the education, skills and finances needed to help them support themselves without the need of outside, foreign assistance.”
Sparacio has spent thousands of hours working on Project Have Hope. When asked what she has gained through this journey, she simply says, “Friends.” Many of the women she meets in Uganda have been raped and assaulted, their children have been abducted and husbands have been beaten or killed.
“But they smile widely and often, laugh gregariously, and move forward with each passing day,” she said. “I am honored to consider many of them as friends. They are the people who remind me, even when I do not see them everyday of what is important in life.”
It must be true that life’s greatest gifts are not seen, but felt.
Sparacio remembers one boy who had been abducted at the young age of 8. He was forced to become a child soldier, but escaped nine months later. Sparacio took the boy to live with his Aunt in the Acholi Quarter. Through Project Have Hope, he has been sponsored in school for the past two years. Whenever he sees Sparacio, he walks with her and holds her hand.
In January, the boy saw her sitting alone and asked if he could sing her a song. He began to sing the children’s song “Head and Shoulders…Knees and Toes,” while simultaneously touching each body part.
“He grinned happily and proudly as he sung. No matter how bad of a day I am having, I think of him and smile. What a sweet, kind child!” Sparacio said. “To at least some small degree, I was able to give him back his childhood and give him hope for the future.”
For more information on Project Have Hope, visit ProjectHaveHope.org.