Alumna Weaves Hope in Uganda

By Valerie McArthur '18
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sarah Raber ’11 graduated from JBU with an intercultural studies major intending to become a missionary in Africa. Now, despite being solidly planted in Texas with three small boys of her own, Raber is still able to make an impact in the lives of Ugandan women through her business, Woven Hearts of Hope.

Woven Hearts of Hope is an e-commerce shop that sells handwoven baskets and jewelry made by Ugandan women in Musana Camps near Lake Victoria. These artisans craft paper and glass bead jewelry, woven baskets, beads and other unique items which are then shipped over the to the U.S. and sold. The profits enable the women to feed their families, develop their communities and earn an education.

The jewelry is all made with local and readily available items. The baskets and some of the jewelry are made from Njuru grasses wrapped with palm and banana leaves. Others are made from dried gourd with crushed eggshells or paper strips rolled up and painted with nail polish. While the materials are simple, the work is time consuming, as one paper bead takes ten minutes to complete and a single basket takes two weeks.

While Raber has never been able to visit the artisans, the work she does is vital to their success. Spending lots of late nights in front of the computer after her kids are in bed, Raber manages the orders, takes the photographs, runs craft shows and hosts jewelry parties, with no compensation of her own.

“We have food, clothes and homes,” Raber said of herself and her business partner Erin Erickson. “We want this to help the women more. Even taking a free necklace can be difficult.”

The company was started in 2015 by a local Ugandan missionary, Angela Blank. Raber originally was simply helping to run the Etsy shop back in the US. Blank paid women set prices for their pieces and then Raber took care of the online orders. The pieces are sold at a slightly higher price in the U.S., helping to cover costs of the business. Any surplus money is given back to the village and used to develop community projects such as a new hospital, church and school.

Eventually it became necessary for the business to have its own website, a responsibility Raber took on, until completely taking over the business at the end of 2017. This has come with its own challenges as Raber has had to learn how to run the website and rebuild a customer base.

Woven Hearts of Hope have helped improve the quality of life for over 40 Ugandan women. One artisan is paying her way through university and another built a house for her immediate and extended family. More than just monetary benefits, the business is also an opportunity to share the gospel. 

Ugandan women“They now have a Bible study where they get together and weave baskets and study the word,”
Raber said. “Even some of the men in the villages have seen the changes in the women and started coming to church too.”

The artisan’s dedication to God is even seen in their willingness to invest money into their own village. One woman gave back the equivalent of half month’s wages for the building of a church. This money was then combined with the surplus money already going towards that project.

“Even though I’m not in Africa, I’m still able to be ministering to and with African cultures,”
Raber said, hoping to someday go to Musana Camps and meet the artisans herself.

Connecting American women with Uganda women has been a unique opportunity, as both groups have benefited from the other.

“One of our designs is called ‘Endless Love,’” Raber said. “It’s the love going back and forth between the U.S. and Uganda.”

To view and buy products, visit wovenheartsofhope.net. Use the discount code “JBU” at the checkout to receive 15 percent off your purchase.

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