Beaded Treasure project transforming refugees into entrepreneurs - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Beaded Treasure project transforming refugees into entrepreneurs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On their way to Louisville, three women have already survived war, death and destruction. Now a new chance at life brings new hurdles and one has hatched a plan to change their fortunes one bead at a time.

Maryam Abu-anzi is from Iraq and Vani Varatharajah is from Sri Lanka. Living worlds apart in different war zones, they battled similar circumstances to survive: huddling shoulder to shoulder in refugee camps as bombs sometimes forced them into even worse conditions. 

"Most of the time we lived underground," Varatharajah said. "A lot of problems there ... a shortage of food. A lot of people died."

Because of her religious beliefs, Abu-anzi didn't want to appear on camera, but she tells us she spent four years in an Iraqi refugee camp with her children.

She says the camp was "not good," with virtually no water or food. And the tents they slept in provided very little protection from the elements. 

Now that they're in Louisville, both women have a chance at a better life, but there are still struggles since both spoke speak very little English and have no jobs.

But another woman -- Surekha Kulkarni from India -- had an idea and it started with beads. 

Kulkarni came to find a school for her dyslexic son, but she has also found a way to help refugees with one of her passions.

"I just took a jewelry making class on a whim and found I loved it so much I haven't stopped beading since," Kulkarni said. 

Kulkarni started workshops to pass on her skills, teaching women to string together colorful pieces of art with international flair from their homelands. And that's how the Beaded Treasures Project was born.

I earn money," Varatharajah said. "Also, at the same time, beading gives me happiness too, really."

Dozens of women have gone through the program, learning how to make jewelry, market it and sell it at venues like farmers markets and home parties. It's changing fortunes and lives. 

"I didn't think in my wildest dreams that this is where we could be but of course now I can't stop," Kulkarni said. "What I want from this project is that whoever joins and participates should be able to feel that she can do whatever she wants to do. There is no barrier."

"I have a home now," Abu-anzi said. "Everything is very good. "I think we are now peaceful in the U.S. so I love America and I hope my daughters have a bright future in the U.S."

Beaded Treasures is about take part in its first fundraiser as part of Give Local Louisville to help train more women. Click here to learn more

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