For 25 years, drugs controlled her life – she was a crack cocaine addict growing up in Dallas.
Three years ago someone saw potential in Annette Bailey, and since then she’s been “clean and sober” and traveling to many cities in the country to talk about the Akola project – a jewelry-making enterprise that benefits more than 500 women who were once bound by chains of poverty, disease, drugs and sex trafficking in Uganda and Dallas.
Akola has helped Bailey redesign her life. “I have new friends and a new life,” she told a crowd gathered Thursday at Sydney Murphy Design on the square in downtown El Dorado. Recently while in Dallas, Sydney Murphy, owner of the business, heard about the Akola Project,
purchased some of the jewelry to sell in her store and hosted a trunk show to exhibit and sell pieces of the jewelry. Akola means “she works” in Lusoga.
Since the program was founded in 2007 by Brittany Underwood, a Southern Methodist University graduate who visited Uganda in 2004 and determined to do something about poverty conditions in that country, over 500 Ugandan and Dallas women have “redesigned” their lives through the project.
Women, many who are raising 10 or more children who have no home when their parents were killed in wars or from the HIV/AIDs virus, make beads from hand-rolled paper – a skill that allows them to work from home so they can provide food and an education for their children, while earning an income. Each piece of Akola jewelry is then sent to Dallas, where women, using the paper beads, assemble the jewelry and create necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Bailey now serves as head of new sales and distribution for Akola – the project that “gave us a second chance,” she said. “The past no longer defines me. Akola says ‘You are worth something.’”
Because of her second chance, Bailey, 58, said she is now working and has returned to school, to become a substance abuse counselor. “You can overcome addiction. I am recovered, thanks to God. He had a purpose for my life.”
Camille Moughon, business development officer for Akola, accompanied Bailey for the Akola trunk show in El Dorado, and gave an overview of the project. She said the project has “transformed the lives of 4,000 children,” and all proceeds from the sale of jewelry is reinvested in the project to continue to support employment, training, holistic programs and the construction of training centers and water wells in impoverished countries.
Since 2014, Akola Dallas has partnered with local nonprofits who refer women to Akola’s vocational training and flexible work program. The company offers work through the jewelry assembly program and distribution center, which serves as a second-chance job program, at a living wage of up to $15 an hour.
Through Akola, women are trained to facilitate empowerment programs including support groups, wellness trainings and monthly forums. These programs give women a voice as well as support in times of crisis. Through Akola’s educational programs, women are trained to use their income to implement desired change in their families and communities. This includes starting businesses, opening schools and running for office.
Akola’s collection retails in every Neiman Marcus store nationwide and the signature Keratasi jewelry can be purchased locally at Sydney Murphy Design, 111 E. Main, El Dorado and online at akolaproject.org.
The jewelry has been featured in Elle, People, Bazaar and Forbes magazines, to name a few, and Underwood has received numerous awards and accolades for founding Akola. She has told her story of the women in Uganda and Dallas on the Katie Couric Show, CNN, Fox Business and Yahoo News, in addition to numerous newspapers throughout the country.
Janice McIntyre can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.