Beads link ladies from Shepparton to Uganda

By John Lewis

As the song says - from little things big things grow.

From tiny colourful beads has grown a circle of friendship and love that has connected two communities on opposite sides of the world.

For the past seven years Shepparton's Mercy Place Aged Care pastoral carer Loretta Lilford has been visiting the Suubi Centre in the village of Lubanda in south-western Uganda as a member of the Kyabram-based charity Help Us Grow (HUG).

After each visit, Loretta has returned with a collection of colourful beads which local women make from rolled up paper, varnish and fishing line.

She then sells the beads to Mercy Place residents and sends the money back to Uganda.

She said the beads brought joy to the ladies at Mercy Place and a sense of achievement and connection to the ladies in Uganda.

"The joy I see is from the women in Uganda that I've grown to love, and from the ladies here who are so interested in the African women," Loretta said.

"The beads are all tagged with names, so we know exactly who made them and the money goes directly to that person," Loretta said.

She said the Ugandan women used the money to buy medical and educational supplies for their families.

 She said Mercy Place residents now felt a real sense of belonging to the Ugandan community.

"Our ladies feel really connected, and we have Power Point presentations and we talk about the families and kids in Africa," Loretta said.

Mercy Place residents said they treasured their beads and the connections they had made.

Mavis Shae has 10 sets of beads.

"They're perfect to me - everyone is different and I can mix and match the colours with different outfits," she said.

Thelma Adams said she was happy to help others.

"These are made by people who are not as fortunate as us - but we can help them," Thelma said.

For Sister Eileen Casey her African beads have special significance.

"When I arrived in Shepparton my sister had just passed away and when I bought these beads I began to think about all the care and love that had gone into making them. That gave me a lot of comfort and solace when I wore them," Sister Eileen said.

During her visits to Uganda, Loretta has co-founded a program through HUG called Smiling Hearts which helps children with disabilities.

"We wanted to create education and training opportunities for disabled children - in Uganda they really are at the bottom of the pile," she said.

She said the program had had its first success with a deaf and mute boy called Sadam.

"We found him in a marketplace, he had no future. But we found him a hairdressing apprenticeship and he's about to leave the program and set himself up," she said.

Loretta plans to visit the Subbi Centre in Uganda again next year.

"Our work is all about helping people find meaning and purpose in their lives - wherever they are," she said.

HUG was founded by Kyabram couple Helen and Adrian Brown in 2008. To find out more about the charity, go to