Within minutes of my feet touching African soil, I met Alice. She was in the welcome party of Changemakers waiting at the Kigali airport to greet the African Road Learning Team. Before she embraced me, Alice looked warmly into my eyes, as if greeting a familiar friend. Alice’s eyes seemed to say: I offer true, genuine connection.
My heart eagerly accepted that rare and precious gift.
Each day during the learning trip, I found myself drawn to this woman who radiated the most warmth, acceptance, and strength I’d ever felt from another human being. Whenever there was an open seat next to Alice, I asked if I could sit beside her. Although she was soft-spoken, Alice was generous with details of her life. At times, I found myself holding my breath as Alice spoke. Where she allowed me to go felt like sacred, holy territory.
One afternoon, at the cultural center where our team was housed, three long tables were covered in beaded necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Each remarkable treasure was made with recycled paper passed through Alice’s hands.
The beauty of what was spread out before me was nearly overpowering.
As I looked carefully at each lovingly strung masterpiece, I noticed no two beads were alike. Each bead told a piece of the remarkable life story of a woman with an all-encompassing heart, an unwavering faith, and a resilient spirit.
At the time, I did not know it took Alice a whole day to make each necklace and that she sings and prays as she creates. I only knew that she uses the jewelry money to fund the education of many children entrusted to her care.
That day, I bought seven necklaces, including one for myself—a tangible piece of this remarkable woman hugged my neck for the remainder of the trip.
When it was time for my daughter Natalie and I to fly home, Alice accompanied us to the airport. She did not have to do that. But just as I felt a special connection to her, I believe she felt a special connection to me.
When I got home, I missed my talks with Alice in a way that is impossible to describe. Thankfully, Alice reached out to me via a messaging service which began our daily conversations and special friendship.
There are just certain people we meet along our life’s path that we want others to know too.
Alice is one of those people.
Knowing there’s a slim chance my friends, family, and blog readers will ever go to Africa to meet Alice, I asked her if she would be willing to come to you.
She said yes.
Alice is a recycler of hope, and she has been working to fill the largest order she’s ever received. Today she sets her masterpieces on the table in front of us.
Come sit with us.
Come breathe with us.
If you are weighed down by hard stuff you ache to discard, please listen. As you open yourself up to this sacred conversation, may you see a way to convert all that is unwanted into something quite remarkable.
My friends, meet Alice…
Q: Tell me a little about your childhood/early years (where did you grow up?)
Alice: Thank you. I was born in a village in a very humble family. My father had three wives. My mother was the second one. He was a plumber for tea plantations. I grew up in a family with many children because of the three wives. My father only came on weekends and then stopped coming to my mother much at all which left her to provide for the five of us. Our mother worked hard to raise us. When education time came, we didn’t get very far because school fees were too difficult for her to manage alone. At Senior 3 (about age 14), I had to drop out. When I was 16 my mother and grandmother worked hard to pay for me to go to secretary college. I completed at age 17. I finally got a job and learned much. I then got another job at secondary school as a school secretary.
In the process, I had a husband who was not good to me, and I had two children. We had problems, and I had to try to solve them. I was also helping many others. My sister was ill and her son came to be with me. I had to fight hard to keep my children in school. I thank God I was brave enough to fight on. I was crying in the night because I needed to have my children complete school.
While I was working as a young woman, I paid for my own school and resumed at Senior 4 even though I was grown. I managed to complete secondary when I was in my twenties and kept on working. In order to get good school and care for my family and to get away from my bad husband, I moved my family to Kampala. City life was hard for me, however I was then able to get a good job for some years at a government office NSF.
I eventually had a second husband with whom I had a baby, Jane Kelly. At that time, I was also caring for a young girl and helping her with her school fees. My husband ran off with the girls and left me with the baby. Jane Kelly then had a terrible illness (something like a kind of epilepsy) and there were many trips to the doctor. We had little hope in her survival until a treatment was found, and my heart was grieved.
My mother was sick too, and I was in the hospital with both of them so much and worked to pay their bills. My boss helped me with transport. However NSF restructured in 1997 and I was laid off. Since that time it has been very difficult to find a regular job. I do everything I can. I buy things when I have a little capital and then sell them for more. I make handcrafts and hope for a market. To get my daughter to school a friend helped me think about finance. She wrote me a check for $200. Then I slowly repaid her.
Q: Tell me about your family. Who lives with you?
Alice: In my two-room home in Uganda, these are the children and young people who live with me and I am helping:
Through the years, I raised five children a part from my own, and now there are five others for whom I am caring. There are eight others who I cared for, for several years time.
The people in the village send children to me in Kampala for education. It is hard for me to send them away because I know how it is for these families.
I brought up my sister’s children since they were crawling. My other sister died in 2005 and left her 4 children to me. Lodging is tight, but we make do (small room with 8-12 people) to survive.
My brother was killed at age 23. He left 2 young kids that I took in. Isaac is the baby. I really love them. I have taught them to pray, and I pray they will continue to love God.
Note: 21 children have been cared for by Alice over a 25-year period while being a single woman most of that time. In a message to me yesterday, Alice shared a photo of her sister Joyce that had an unforgettable caption: “4 of her children have passed through my hands.”
Q: How do you overcome your struggles and challenges?
Alice: I worked to overcome my struggles by crocheting tablecloths. Then it became harder and harder.
(At this point in the conversation, Alice begins to cry.)
I try as much as possible to look clean. Nobody would know that I struggle so much. How can 10 people manage on so little? I take them to church, we sing together, and we are a joyful family. We are pressing on. I share a bed with 3 girls. They appreciate my effort and respect me. They are growing well. The boys wash vehicles to help us have money to eat.
One thing I do is buy potatoes at border of Rwanda and Uganda, and then I sell them for more in Kampala.
Q: How long have you lived in Rwanda?
Alice: I split time between Rwanda and Uganda because I am then able to do small business and earn something more when I move between the two countries.
I began in Rwanda in 2004. I was sharing a house with Pastor Steven Turkinunkiko and the orphaned children he was caring for before he married Providance. We had a curtain divider in one room. He is like a son to me. I helped him with typing during those years. That is how I came to know Kelly Bean, founder of African Road, in 2010.
Q What is a current obstacle in your life right now?
Alice: Lacking a steady market for my handcrafts means it is hard to plan for meeting the ongoing challenge of paying school and medical fees the children I care for.
Q: What is your greatest strength (what do you do well)?
Alice: What I do well is crochet and make jewelry with all my heart, so I can help many people. This has also helped me to finish my small rooms where I stay with the children in Uganda. My other strengths include:
- Loving God
- Doing what I do with all my power
- Learning knitting. I love it all so much. I wish to teach and support others through knitting.
- Ministering people over the phone. They call me, and I pray for them and encourage them.
Q: Could you share one of your personal goals?
Alice: Raising up a girl is so difficult with so many challenges. When I see young girls going through what I went through, I look for a way to help and make a difference for them. To help girls be equipped to stand on their own is my joy. Even if they have little they can do, they can build on that little thing.
Q: You have filled a large order of exquisite necklaces for the Hands Free Mama Shop. What do you want this community to know about these works of art?
Alice: The necklaces are made of paper that you would think was waste paper. They are made from old magazines and calendars. I make that waste a better thing.
It was interesting to make each one of these special necklaces. I learned new things every time. When I make something, and it comes out nicely, I feel like making more and more. Learning cannot end; you can keep on learning. It can take one whole day to make one necklace.
I pray and sing as I make the necklaces. I talk to God as I would talk to you as I work.
I am very grateful for those who support me through the purchase of a necklace. Through this support for me, they support many others. I love and appreciate this support.
Alice’s final words to those who wear her necklaces:
“I encourage you to have hope and work hard. There is hope for life. Join me in praying for peace all over the world. Love people and work for peace. You can help people even if they are not your relatives.” –Alice Kajoina
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, today it is possible to purchase one of Alice’s exquisite necklaces through the HANDS FREE MAMA shop while supplies last. Please keep in mind that each necklace varies slightly in color and length. The necklaces are final sale, and there is a limit of 3 per order please. Domestic orders placed by December 9 will arrive by December 23. Thank you for your support of Alice’s work. This supply is expected to sell out quickly but there could be another opportunity to feature Alice’s necklaces in the shop in April, if there is interest. Click here to order.
Important note: This opportunity and sacred exchange was made possible by Kelly Bean of African Road. To learn more about the work of African Road and the opportunities they provide to partner with Changemakers like Alice in East Africa, please go here.
Thank you for holding my dear Sister Friend, Alice, in your loving hands. I am grateful.
Only love today,