Stringing Together Beads of Hope: Economically Empowering Survivors of Human Trafficking through Paper Bead Making

Thanks to Intira Thepsittawiwat, who donated her time and expertise, SEED Foundation supported 11 women, from 3 countries, to learn how to make paper bead necklaces. These women, while residing in SEED’s STEPS Center, were empowered with new skills that can help them to generate an income.

Intira, who is the wife of the Czech Consul General in Erbil (2018-2021), has been taking her women’s art and empowerment project around the world. She engages women in this meditative and relaxing activity, while also helping them to create something beautiful that can be marketed and sold.

At first, the women in at the STEPS Center – a shelter for survivors of human trafficking – were not certain they had the skills to create beads from paper or newspaper, and to eventually make necklaces. But, after Mercy, SEED’s Psychosocial Support (PSS) Coordinator, who herself was trained by Intira, showed the clients how it worked, they were excited to continue. The women enjoyed gathering for the sessions, listening to music together while they worked. Now they say that they enjoy using their new skills and creating beautiful pieces together.

In October 2021, clients at the STEPS Center made 1,600 paper beads, used to craft seventy-five paper bead necklaces that SEED purchased, thereby allowing the women to earn a modest income producing the necklaces.

“I felt that we were all involved. We appreciated and loved being entrusted with such a big responsibility – to make necklaces that were for a fundraiser,” says one client, capturing the sense of pride and accomplishment many of the others shared.

Having experienced great emotional – and in some cases physical – abuse at the hand of their traffickers, many of the women lacked confidence and felt disempowered. This training – alongside other interactive PSS activities, and in conjunction with comprehensive mental health services, legal and case management – helped the women rebuild their self-esteem. Knowing that they now had a skill that could help them live and work independently again – whether in Kurdistan or in their home country – was reassuring.

Inspired by this project, five women who have since been repatriated to their home countries, participated in a small business and entrepreneurship course as part of their reintegration services. “We are keen to start our own businesses,” they explain.

Making paper bead necklaces is now something clients at the STEPS Center enjoy doing as part of their regular PSS programming. SEED observed how the paper bead making helped to improve client mental health, and saw them develop strong social and emotional bonds, despite what they have experienced in the past.