Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives

Interviewed and Compiled by Anne Marie Hunter, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

While working with orphanages in India in 2010, assisting them in developing micro businesses to become more self-sustaining, James and Shannon Doherty were contacted by Project Rescue in Pune. Project Rescue is one of many homes throughout the world offering a safe haven and new beginning for those rescued from human trafficking. Having heard about their work with orphanages, the directors of Project Rescue approached the Dohertys for assistance in setting up a micro business that would help the girls (many near 13 years old) transition out of the home. This was the birthplace of Dignata Jewelry, a non-profit organization that designs lines of beautiful jewelry, handmade by girls and women breaking away from a life of exploitation.

Dignata: Latin: dignitis, from dignus, "worthy." Thought worthy of. Dignata is jewelry that changes lives, restoring dignity and hope.

Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives

"When we were initially looking into types of businesses that would be appropriate for Project Rescue's residents, we looked into jewelry-making. It's fun and requires low overhead, inventory and space. And, we thought it would be good for all girls," says James.

Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives Once the Dohertys and Project Rescue settled on jewelry-making as the business to launch, numerous decisions had to be made. "It was important the designs were handcrafted and individual, so the girls could add their own flair. We found jewelry-makers to come to India and teach--and we learned as well. Neither one of us had made jewelry before," notes Shannon. "We did a lot of research on jewelry trends that would be popular and appeal to a worldwide market."

"One of our biggest challenges was finding jewelry-making supplies," James says. "It was hard to find suppliers in India, particularly in the local markets. Availability and consistency was very limited. We spent a lot of time searching out suppliers. In January, 2011, we discovered Fire Mountain Gems and Beads. Fire Mountain has consistent products and supplies, so the designs could be mass-produced."

Through their connection with Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, the Doherty's dream of creating expanded opportunities for more girls in other rescue shelters became a reality. A consistent, reliable source of quality supplies was essential for the growth of Dignata Jewelry, so they could continue offering a brighter future to the new, hope-filled jewelry makers.

Within a short time after teaming with Project Rescue, the Dohertys joined a second rescue group, Good Shepherd Homes, to initiate a jewelry-making business for their residents--girls who had been rescued from the street before they were subjected to trafficking.
Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives

Dignata Jewelry: Jewelry that Changes Lives "In addition to jewelry-making, Dignata helps these young people set up bank accounts and much more, teaching them how to run a small, profitable business they can call their own," says James. "Returning to the streets without skills can be perilous for girls coming out of rescue homes. As it stands, they can't quit prostitution without an alternative job that pays a real living wage. Otherwise, they are begging for jobs. With jewelry-making, they not only have a creative skill set, but one that provides an income and builds confidence--all stepping stones towards a new future. Girls affiliated with Dignata go on to pursue education in a variety of fields. Some start their own small businesses."

Dignata not only teaches the young women to design jewelry, but supplies the components and tools, and then buys their finished product. These new jewelry artists receive pay that is higher than the average living wage in their country, enabling them to support themselves.

"It's exciting to see people's lives transformed," says James. "I watch girls' faces light up when they have a pile of pieces and supplies and make something beautiful with their own hands."

"We tell them that people love their jewelry," Shannon adds. "They love to hear their jewelry brought someone joy. Jewelry-making helps them reintegrate into society. It is part of the healing process and rejuvenates their self-worth."

"In trafficking, they literally do not feel like humans. No one treats them like anything but an object. Through this opportunity, they learn they have so much to offer," James says.

Currently, Dignata operates in five locations: three in India, one in Latvia and one in the Netherlands. "The homes are like a real family," says James. "Right now, there are thirty women on waiting lists for the five different homes. These homes free them to live without returning to trafficking." Four additional cities have asked for a Dignata branch including Prague, Budapest, Moscow and Houston.

Over the past four years, Dignata Jewelry has established itself as a social entrepreneurship providing opportunities for trafficked, destitute or at-risk girls and women to move into productive, economically independent futures.

Dignata Jewelry can be purchased on their website, as well as at parties, church events, in bookstores and more.
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