Salvadoran women transformed, one bead at a time

Lourdes Mena — Lula, as she’s affectionately called — is a gifted designer and the kind of person who sees the beauty in the world, a trait that comes in handy in her work with Salvadoran communities to create eco-friendly and “fair trade” products.

A third of the population in El Salvador lives in poverty, so much of her work is with people who lack full-time jobs and struggle to make ends meet — people such as Ana Mindy, María, María Victoria, Ana Marina, Vidalia and Evelyn.

The women, who live in El Palmeral, have spent the past four years helping Lula create jewelry.

Three women smiling while making beaded necklaces (Dave Cooper for USAID)
“I feel a profound admiration towards these women, and I see how they are improving their lives and are succeeding. It fills my soul,” Lula says. (Dave Cooper for USAID)

Lula designs the products and  the women make them by hand, painstakingly combining strings of many colors, seeds and nuts to make unique, meaningful creations. They call their line of products Seeds of Joy.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided marketing and business support and helped Lula showcase her work at international design fairs. She exports to eight countries.

Composite of two photos showing row of women creating necklaces and close-up of one creating necklace (Dave Cooper for USAID)
Today, Lula’s business supports 70 artisans and has generated 120 new jobs in El Salvador. (Dave Cooper for USAID)

Though the women are grateful for stable jobs and economic security, they say coming to work is about more than money. They have become a family, encouraging each other when times are tough, and providing daily support and love.

They describe the inspiring pep talks that Lula and her colleagues often give, reminding the women to be confident, to advocate for themselves, and to find happiness.

Hands holding beaded necklaces (Dave Cooper for USAID)
Lula’s shop is filled with an array of beautiful flowing beads, multicolored string and elaborate tree-nut necklaces. (Dave Cooper for USAID)

The shop is full of stories of empowerment, sustainability, love and joy. With each piece sold, the stories spread — and the Seeds of Joy continue.

USAID has helped over 9,000 small and medium-sized Salvadoran businesses, with nearly 3,500 women receiving training in business and trade.

A longer version of this article appears on USAID’s website.