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Auburn resident creating business for Uganda

Promoting women’s independence main goal, co-founder says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Shanley Knox decided last summer she wanted to help the women of Eastern Uganda create sustainable businesses. Auburn resident Knox, 22, made her second trip to Uganda over the summer. Knox was photographing and writing about the work of Align Ministries, and living with a host family in one of the villages. Knox’s first overseas trip took her to Haiti when she was 18, where she worked with children in an orphanage. It was here Knox met her now-adopted Haitian sister, Beth. In 2008 Knox went to Uganda to work in an orphanage, but knew she wanted to do more. When the opportunity to work with Align Ministries presented itself, Knox was thrilled. It was here that Knox said she discovered she needed to help the women of the Luwero District, many of whom were stricken by AIDS and were trying to sell their beaded necklaces in a “dead market.” “Kind of the minute I decided I needed to do something was when I was in this woman’s hut,” Knox said. “Her son walked in and she said, ‘The beads aren’t selling right now, so he is not in school.’” Knox, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Biola University in La Mirada, returned to the United States in August and held a fundraiser in October. Through her brother, she got in contact with Emily Sheehy, and Nakate was born. Nakate is a nonprofit organization that sells the Ugandan beaded necklaces. Some of the proceeds are returned directly to the women who make them and some are put into microfinance loans to help the women start sustainable businesses in their villages, Knox said. The necklaces range in price from $20 to $100, Knox said. The women make the necklace beads by wrapping paper around a needle. They then apply glue and a finish and the beads are sun dried. The process is painstaking, Knox said. Knox said the possibility of providing the women with stable, more positive incomes, but not allowing them to simply become dependent on foreign aid, is her ultimate goal. “The typical woman working there is working in a bar, or a lot of them in this particular village are working for maize companies,” Knox said. The maize workers spend their time sorting stones out of corn and make about 25 cents a day, Knox said. Sheehy, who manages the business side of the organization, said she enjoys the fact that this project helps the women to become more independent. “I think it’s important, because I don’t like just charity work where aid money is just given to people and there is no accountability for it,” Sheehy said. “So, I see this business as women aren’t just going to become dependent on someone in the United States. They will feel an empowerment with that, which hopefully will lead them to feel empowered with the rest of their lives.” Knox said this project really connects those who want to directly help those in need. “I think, for me at least, there has been a lot of organizations that I have donated to or talked to where you are not sure where your money is going,” she said. “I feel like we are in it for the long haul – not just to send money there, but to help develop.” The company is hoping initially to get their products into local stores, and residents can also host parties at their homes to spread the word about the necklaces and give people a chance to purchase them. Eventually, Knox said she wants to tap into a different market and potentially go global. “I kind of want to hit the upper-fashion circuit of people,” she said. “That is kind of a market that hasn’t been tapped into by this kind of thing.” Antonio Estebán, who is volunteering as Nakate’s photography art director, said Knox makes it obvious just how important this project is. “She is very driven,” Estebán said. “She is very committed. Talking to her, you know she’s doing something good. She does all this for these people, and you don’t see that too often nowadays.” Sheehy said Knox brings several things to the table in her co-leadership of the organization. “I have never met someone who is such a go-getter,” Sheehy said. “She knows how to use social media … to really build awareness, and ask people to give and network with people. Also, she has been to Uganda, and that is important. She knows these women and she knows their stories.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Nakate What: A nonprofit organization selling hand-made Ugandan jewelry to help create sustainable businesses for the women of Eastern Uganda. Website: nakateproject.com Information: E-mail Shanley Knox at shanleyknox@gmail.com or Emily Sheehy at emily.sheehy@gmail.com