Bullets to Beads

Raven & Lily turn the tools of conflict to benefit women

In the mountains of northern Ethiopia, farmers supply bead makers with empty military shells that are then crafted into exquisite metal jewelry. Raven & Lily, a dynamic social enterprise, has been working closely with a group of artisans, and providing jobs for HIV positive women who live on these post conflict, war torn lands. Items that once brought harm and devastation, now bring hope as the production of melted and remolded artillery beads support over a hundred workers, including entire families.

When Raven & Lily first visited Ethiopia, the idea to turn bullets into beads was not yet on their radar, but after a bit of exploration, lead designer Lori Fox was impressed by what was already in place. She explains, “Most of the bead makers are farmers. As they till the land, they find the artillery shell casings and then sell them to the bead makers for recycling purposes. Spent ammunitions are still found in large numbers due to the many wars that have been fought over the past hundred years. As of now, there is no shortage of bullets, but eventually we will deplete our inventory and will be proud to say that we were part of history—by cleaning up the land from the remnants of war and for bringing life back to the country in the form of artillery-free crops and job production.”

The hand manufacturing process is time intensive. For example, one necklace takes the time of approximately 10 artisans, and 42 bullets. The shells are first melted over a hot bed of coals and then poured into thin rods of brass or copper metal. Lori adds, “For the initial forming stage, there are two men who help with this process. One keeps the fire hot while the other pours the melted metal into a long tubular mold. The cooled metal is then passed onto another man who cuts the pieces into small one-inch strips and rounds them into coils. The next gentleman hammers the piece into another type of mold. The beads are then strung, cleaned, coated, and finished by two others workers. Yet another employee, the deliveryman, transports the beads to the cooperative where two additional apprentice women string the beads and hand them off to an advanced artisan who does all the finishing closures. The last woman who handles the piece checks for quality control, tags the item, and packages it for shipping."

An auxiliary group of women located near the Entoto Mountain also assemble this gorgeous up cycled jewelry as a way to help other females who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. Many of the afflicted are uneducated about their disease and resort to begging in order to survive. Therefore, this employment provides optimism and improves their quality of life. Even after working with these women for four years, I am still in awe when we get our shipments into the studio. Each piece is a handcrafted treasure." 

Although these empty casings are reminders of the brutal 20th century conflicts faced by the Ethiopian people, this jewelry brings not only pride and joy, but a sense of security and renewal as they are also cleaning up their lands from the many saddened memories of the past. Lori emphasizes, “They love working with the materials because they are familiar elements. Presently, their emotions are more aimed at the sense of family they have found working within the group since most of them have been ostracized from their original families due to AIDS.”

At the end of the day, Raven & Lily believe that it is the well being of the people which makes all of their hard work worthwhile. In Ethiopia alone, they started working with approximately thirty women who were participating part time in the program. Now they employ almost one hundred and ten, the majority of whom are full time workers. In the future, there will be many opportunities for expansion. Lori concludes by stating, “It is really amazing to see how far they have come. It is conversation starter to say the least!” 

For more information, please visit http://www.ravenandlily.com

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