Embera Bead Project

Helping displaced indigenous families one bead at a time

On the streets of Medellin, Colombia, indigenous women in colorful dresses sit daily begging for any spare coins from those who walk by. Their babies and little ones nap beside them or play near the busy roads. Many who pass by will give an empathetic coin, though many judge the women for being lazy and exposing their children to the streets.

What those passersby don’t know is the reality of the lives of these indigenous women. They beg because they don’t speak Spanish, have no education, and are trying to earn just a few dollars a day in order to pay rent for their families. They’re here in the city with their families because they were forced to flee their communities and flee to the city due to wars between armed groups. They bring their children with them because they have no one to watch them at home, and the streets where they beg are safer than the prostitute-, gang- and drug-infested alleyways where they live. Stories of displacement and poverty are all too common for these indigenous groups whose lands are riddled with land mines and violent attacks.

The Embera have been a misunderstood and overlooked people group. However, IMB missionary Beth Burkhalter began taking notice of these displaced women and saw a group in need of a Savior who could meet their eternal and earthly needs, so she and her husband, Travis, began storying through the Bible with a group of them. As Beth got to know this group, she saw the overwhelming needs of these families who were getting sick (some even dying) due to malnutrition, dehydration and deplorable living conditions. She realized the need for a long-term, sustainable way for the Embera to earn a fare wage and provide food and shelter for their families.

For generations, the Embera people have created beaded jewelry. Today, they make beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings in ancestral patterns to sell to locals. Beth felt God calling her to utilize the beaded handiwork and begin the Embera Bead Project as a way to help the Embera families earn a living wage and, ultimately, to share God’s Word with them.

Since the COVID-19 crisis has shut down international travel, the Embera no longer have the ability to sell their jewelry to tourist groups. Beth helped to create an online store to help these unreached people sell to customers worldwide. The Embera Bead Project’s online store now has the ability to help many families pay their daily rent, feed their families, and get medical care. Through hearing the Word and selling their artisan works, the Embera are beginning to experience the hope of the Savior and Great Provider, one Bible story and bead at a time.

You can purchase beaded jewelry to help support the Embera at www.restaurantsonmission.org/retail.