The life of Hollywood movie producer Francine LeFrak changed after she met and listened to the stories of a group of HIV-positive women who had survived the Rwandan genocide. Mostly widows, single mothers and orphaned teenage girls, the women were struggling with the emotional wreckage and brutal poverty that followed the genocide. Rather than just writing a check, LeFrak has dedicated herself to empowering such women, and trying to change the narrative. Her organization SAME SKY trains women in Sub-Saharan Africa to become jewelry artisans. SAME SKY buys and ships glass beads to Rwanda for the women to string and crochet. The jewelry, which is beautifully designed, is then shipped to New York to be sold. Tons of celebrities have been seen wearing the beaded baubles–from actors Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Meryl Streep, to Hillary Clinton, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, activist Jesse Jackson, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman, to name just a few.
SAME SKY is making a difference in Rwanda (personal stories from artisans are online) and now the same model is being applied in the States. With the support of Former Governor Jim McGreevey and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, the SAME SKY America Pilot Project in Jersey City is up and running. Women who have recently been released from Hudson County Jail are being trained and employed to hand-bead a SAME SKY Collection. The women are earning a sustainable income, and more importantly a sense of self-dignity and confidence as they work to rebuild their lives.