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Hub photographer lends hand to Uganda

Daniela Caride

Sparacio doesn’t take a salary from Project Have Hope. Instead, she spends 50 more hours a week taking pictures, working as a wedding photographer, meeting clients and working on albums. The Rutgers College graduate studied photography at the New England School of Photography in Boston.

Sparacio works hard, sometimes staying at a farmers’ market until just an hour before she has to start shooting a wedding. She can handle the workload, but she said she wants Project Have Hope to be able to survive on its own.

As it stands now, she said, 95 percent of the organization’s income comes from her selling the beads. The other 5 percent comes from her selling pictures taken in Africa. The beads and pictures are sold at Serendipity, located in Hudson, Mass.; at Dunia, located in Maynard, Mass.; at the Arlington Farmers’ Market and at the Kendall Farmers’ Market.

“If something happens to me and I can’t sell the beads or, like now, the economy is very bad and people don’t have disposable income to buy beads, what’s going to happen?” she asked.

So Sparacio, who started the project with the intention of spending the money on educating the women’s children, has also begun helping the women learn crafts that they can use in the local market.

Since founding Project Have Hope in 2006, Sparacio has raised nearly $200,000 and enrolled 85 children in school. The project targets children in greatest need, sends them to day and boarding schools, and supplies them with uniforms, books, pencils, mattresses and whatever else they need.

To educate their mothers, though, the project often has to start from the very beginning. Many have never attended school before, and were unable to write their names or do simple arithmetic. Others have a basic education, but not enough to allow them to get jobs that would bring a greater income.

In addition to paying for specialized crafts courses, Sparacio also allocates money for basic education. This year, she opened Project Have Hope’s headquarters in the Acholi Quarter, with an office, a library and a meeting room, and started alphabetizing in its premises 32 women who never stepped inside a classroom before.

“The first day of class, the teacher gave them all colored pencils and a piece of paper and told them … with the pencil, to dance around the paper,” Sparacio said. “That was her way to get them used to holding a pencil. Just doodling — something that we take for granted.”

Four months later, the women were writing their first words and sentences, and even speaking a little English.

“It was just mind-boggling,” Sparacio said. “I’m more excited about it than anything.”

The specialized classes are also giving her reason to be excited. Eight women have just completed a tailoring program, where they learn how to sew, and four are about to finish it. Sparacio is encouraging the women to use their tailoring skills to earn money, noting an already-existing market: “… There are so many schools in Uganda, and in all of the schools, the students have uniforms.”

Three other women are enrolled in a catering program — one just received a loan from Project Have Hope to open up a restaurant. Sparacio said such loans stimulate women who finish the programs to start businesses in the area.

She is also looking for ways to extend the project’s adult literacy program to women who already have some degree of education. One alternative would be to install solar panels in Project Have Hope’s headquarters, so she can save power and offer classes at night.

The programs are ambitious, but as Sparacio said again and again, they are “not enough.” She has many goals for the coming year. She wants to make sure the women who graduate are putting their skills into practice and finding their way into business. That’s why she is now on her seventh visit to the Acholi Quarter.

To realize those goals, Sparacio will need a lot of help. She is encouraging other women in the organization to become leaders. She is looking for volunteers and interns that can help increase sales, and of course, she’s always on the hunt for extra funding.

Myrna Snyder DiCesare, who sells letterpress at a neighboring tent at the Arlington Farmers’ Market, said she believes Sparacio will accomplish her goals.

“I adore Karen … It’s good to know there are people like her out there,” she said. “She is the Mother Teresa of beads.”

For more information on Project Have Hope, Sparacio’s photography and her trips to the Acholi Quarter, visit www.projecthavehope.org.