Beauty for Ashes Uganda operates like a family. Co-founders, Akwango Anne Grace Elotu and Brandi Lea, are sisters in heart and in passion. Their hearts are to lead as servants who are humbled and amazed that they are even allowed to do this work.
We aren't an organization, we are an act of love gone awry in the grand adventure of loving the poor, the hungry and the oppressed in this world.
We are Akwango Anne Grace Elotu and Brandi Lea - the founders of Beauty for Ashes Uganda. Anne leads the charge in Uganda with a Ugandan board of directors as a registered Ugandan NGO (non-governmental organization) while Brandi Lea leads the charge in the US with a US Board of Directors as a registered 501(c)3. All of the decisions on how best to empower the mamas in our program go through Anne and her team. We, together, believe whole-heartedly that solutions for Africa's problems will come from Africans rising up. They understand the culture and the issues more than we (Americans) ever could. Anne is very passionate about being intentional in creating empowering strategies instead of creating dependence on foreign aid. Brandi and her team in the US help to advocate for our mamas, create friendships between villages and advocates, and fundraise for projects.
How we began....in Brandi Lea's words (note: Beauty for Ashes Uganda is not a faith-based organization and has people of all different faiths involved, active and highly welcomed in our work. However, Anne and Brandi both happen to love Jesus. This story contains some of that faith background. We want to share from a place of authenticity, but hope that this doesn't throw anyone who might not hail from the same faith background that we do. You are most welcome in our story and in our organization, no matter what your faith (or lack thereof) looks like!
Neither Anne nor I (Brandi Lea) planned on starting a non-profit organization. I met Anne in 2008 and loved her immediately. At the time, I was working with the orphan care organization that her amazing husband, Joseph worked for - and we connected immediately. We
shared the same heart to love and love BIG. We wanted to follow our Jesus on crazy adventures in loving others. We
wanted to see people receive healing in every place of their lives and grow and thrive.
Then the world came crashing down for me personally. I hid out under a rock. Then, I focused on healing. Healing like
it was my JOB. Therapy weekly, if not more often and every book I could get my hands on that focused on trauma
and/or self development. God truly began to heal me from deep trauma and to show me how to love hurting
people like me. At the time, I had no clue that He was preparing me to love deeply wounded people by allowing
me to be deeply wounded. I had no clue that He was healing me so that I might speak and live healing in our
hurting world. All I knew then was that I needed Jesus to speak truth and heal my hurting little heart and that I
wanted to hide out from the world.
Then Anne called....and disturbed my little bubble in the best way Actually, she called many times. Over and over
I told her, "I do not want to start a non profit. God doesn't use me in that way anymore." But still, she persisted. In
November of 2011, Anne called and said to me "I think we are supposed to work together.....and the time is now". I began
to question her about what she was doing and how she might want me involved. She told me that she had begun putting women into cooperatives. Cooperatives were groups of 30 women (she was focusing on single mamas) who would gather together to support and encourage one another and grow together. They would work together to make their lives, their families and their villages better. They would pool their resources and start a "fund" that each one could borrow from to start her own business. This revolving fund would help bring them to sustainability. Anne now wanted to give them the gift of a cow to aid in their long term sustainability.
Did I want to buy some cows?
Sure! That sounded easy enough. I even remember making my FB status that day "Last week I bought a van, this week I bought cows....I'm way more excited about my cows :)" A friend on FB immediately asked if she could buy cows too. We sent the money to Uganda, excited to be a small part of what Anne was doing to change her community and the surrounding villages. The next week, Anne posted pictures of Cow Delivery Day and sent us the profiles of the 18 women who had gotten our cows. Then, she took it a step further....gently stretching me out of my little hiding place. She said that with 30 women in the group, we would need 10 cows. We had 6. Would I be willing to fundraise for the remaining 4? I was scared. I hadn't used my "voice' in months. I didn't even know if it would work.
That night, I posted on FB saying that we needed 4 people willing to buy cows @ $200 each. Then I went to sleep....scared and wondering if the Lord really planned on ever using me like that again....
I woke up to notifications from 8 people interested in buying cows.
Thrilled, I called Anne and asked if she was willing to do more than one cooperative. "Of course," she happily agreed, "We can do this as long as God wants us to do it."
6 months later....people from across the world had come together to fund 10 cooperatives, putting 300 women into groups. We had gathered together (via facebook) to cry over the profiles we read of our mamas, cheer when we saw cow delivery pictures and pray for blessings over them. We had read their stories and realized that their kids weren't in school because they couldn't afford the school fees and had sent their kids back to school. Together, we had fallen in love with the mamas of Uganda.
In August of 2012, Anne put together a conference for 2,000 single mamas and asked me to come speak. It was there, with a group of 8 women from the states, we realized this is more than just a small, little project. Our act of love had gone awry. This could be considered a real organization now :) We enjoyed an amazing week of watching God heal the women of Uganda. He healed deep, emotional wounds of trauma....and somehow in that, He used the healing He had done in me to help heal them. We also got to spend time with the women already in groups and be amazed at what God is doing in and through them. We are so thankful to be allowed to watch God work in these villages. We are thankful to watch Him heal their hearts and bring beauty where there were once ashes.
Now, we have 1,183 mamas in 38 cooperatives across 32 villages and we are so humbled and amazed to get to serve them. We are humbled and amazed to get to watch Him give them Beauty For Ashes ....
I had no clue
that He was healing
me so that I might
speak and live healing
in our hurting world.