Emma Cramer looks every bit the fashionista in a dark silver cable-knit tunic sweater and tights, with a sparkly silver bow in her curly, permed blond hair.
Today, like most days, she’s also wearing a suite of matching jewelry – a black bead necklace, bracelet and dangle earrings.
But her adornments are not just to look fashionable.
Every time she wears the jewelry, made from exquisitely rolled and lacquered recycled paper, the little girl thinks about her friends in Uganda who make the items as part of a nonprofit fair-trade group that helps women rise out of poverty.
Emma’s mother, Kathy Cramer, says that concept was a little hard for the 8-year-old from Defiance, Ohio, to grasp at first, after the two attended a BeadforLife jewelry sale sponsored by WBCL-FM 90.3, a local Christian radio station.
“They had a video playing of the women making the jewelry, and I think she was really caught up and intrigued,” Cramer says. “We bought some jewelry, and in the car on the way home, we started talking about it, and I asked her, ‘Poverty – Emma, do you know what that is?’ ”
At the time, Emma wasn’t sure. She had trouble even saying the word, her mom says.
But now, asked the same question, she has a ready answer. Poverty means the women in Uganda don’t have much, Emma says.
“They have a small house, and they have a dirt floor. They sleep on the floor,” she says.
“It’s kind of sad, because they don’t have a lot of money. They had less than a dollar a day, with all the family they have.”
As she talks, Emma is showing a photo of a smiling Ugandan woman in colorful native dress, surrounded by her extended family, seven people. The woman’s name is Teddy, and today, Emma considers her and another Ugandan woman, Joan, her good friends.
Kathy Cramer says Emma wanted to host a jewelry party to benefit BeadforLife after that first night in November 2012. Her first event raised about $400.
During 2013, she continued to sell the jewelry at school, church and craft shows. When Emma raised about $2,700, her mother found out that two women from the program were going to be in Pittsburgh on a promotional tour.
The family decided to drive there so Emma could meet them. Her mother thought it would be a good experience to have a personal connection.
Emma says the women showed her how they roll the beads and told her about how their lives had changed because people like her sell their jewelry in America.
They also told her about their hard lives. When Teddy’s third child, a girl she named Christina, was born deaf, her husband left her because she would not give up the baby. That left her and her children, plus her mother, sister and two nephews, without income.
Joan (pronounced Jo-Ahn) became a widow when her husband died of AIDS. She would not marry her husband’s brother, as is the custom, so she was ostracized by her family and left destitute.
Now, both women are self-sufficient.
“Teddy owns a farm, and she raises goats and pigs,” Emma says. “She also owns a water tank and sells water to the neighbors, because before, they had to walk far to get water. And she has more than 100 chickens, and she sells their eggs.”
These days, Emma sends emails to Teddy, who recently got a used computer. The Tinora Elementary School student made a video of herself singing a song to them and her mom emailed it and posted it on BeadforLife’s Facebook page. Emma also has sent little presents – lipstick, hand towels and rubber band bracelets she made herself.
She has now sold about $6,000 worth of jewelry, which comes in an array of solid colors and a rainbow color scheme. Prices begin at $5 for a bracelet and range to $30 for a multi-strand necklace.
“When she heard their personal story, and met them, it was just full force,” Cramer says. Emma, she says, is not shy about telling even strangers about the beads and the women.
“We were just at a craft fair, and people came over, and she put her little hands up and said to me, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it. You don’t need to say anything.’
“She goes into the whole story. There are not too many people who can walk away from her.”
Cramer, 38, a retail merchandiser who also has a home-based candy-making business, says her daughter has always had a soft heart. It’s something she and her husband, Tom, 41, a diesel mechanic, have tried to instill in Emma and her brother, Jacob, 10.
Cramer says just knowing the women from so far away has blessed the family. “They’ve been so warm and welcoming to Emma,” she says.
Now, the little girl, who enjoys playing the piano and wants to be a Christian music pastor and a teacher when she grows up, is determined to go to Uganda for a visit. The trip was on her list for her birthday in May and on her Christmas list, too.
She knows it costs a lot. But Teddy has already invited her, she says, and she can be patient.
“If you were offered to go today, would you go?” her mom asks.
“Yes,” she says, nodding so hard that her hair bow jiggles. “I want to see the ladies again.”