Dream Update: Mama Esther

Ember Arts: Esther Dream Update

Our Ugandan partner Esther is a comedian, an entrepreneur, and a dreamer. She cares for nine children, has cultivated six different sources of income, and has countless nicknames. When we asked her for three dreams she’d like to accomplish in her life, this is what she told us:

1 – To send her children to college
2 – To build her family a home in her ancestral village
3 – To buy and drive her own car

This year, thanks to her partnership with Ember, she has made some amazing progress. Here’s an update:

1 – This year her eldest son started studying at a local university, and she has several kids making their way through high school and primary.
2 – She has laid the foundation of a 12-room house in her village (including bedrooms, sitting rooms, kitchen, etc.) and has already built the brick walls up to window-level.
3 – The car, she says, will have to wait until after the house is finished and she gets a handle on university tuition. But you can bet she’ll do it.

Esther has a dream, and through her partnership with Ember Arts, she aims to achieve it. Below is a poster celebrating Esther. Click on it to download the hi-res printable file.

(Our deep thanks to Caava Design for creating this poster for free, so that we can offer it freely to our supporters! Follow Caava on Facebook.)

The Ethics of a Dream

Dream Good Dreams
(click thru for wallpaper sized image)

It was business ethics that taught me the importance of a dream.

I was on a plane to Uganda and I was thinking deeply about my ethical responsibilities as a business owner. Specifically my responsibilities to the Ugandan women I call partners.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This line came back to me as the foundational ethical statement. But how, I wondered, do I actually love myself?

We’ve all asked ourselves this question, but it struck me that I didn’t really know the answer. I mean, I brush my own teeth and feed myself and earn my own paycheck. But is that it? Is that all it means to love myself?

I tried to take a larger view, to ask what preference I naturally give myself that I don’t naturally give other people. And this is what I came up with: Every morning when I wake up, after brushing my teeth, I go out and try to make my own dreams come true.

This, I realized, is how I truly love myself. And so this is my ethical responsibility: to support my neighbors as they pursue their dreams, just as I pursue mine.

To me, this was a deeply revolutionary thought, that people’s dreams were ethically important. And as I thought further I realized that maybe they are more than just important. Maybe they are primary.

My ethical responsibility is to support other people in pursuing their dreams, and their ethical responsibility is to support still more people in pursuing their dreams. So opening opportunities for dreaming and pursuing those dreams is an ethical mandate.

For many years I have tried to define what Good with a capital G is. I’ve tried to figure out if there is some universal way for humanity to talk about how we should and shouldn’t act. This is the closest I’ve come:

Giving more people the chance to dream and pursue their dreams is Good.

A Good Dream then is a dream that, when realized, ensures people the liberty and resources to pursue their dreams. And those people ought to be encouraged to dream Good Dreams as well. In other words, a Good Dream makes it more likely that other Good Dreams will be realized.

This idea has profoundly shaped my life and work. I encourage you too, dream Good Dreams, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Life. On the road.

Right now we are driving through the rain; slowly and steadily approaching the Kansas state line.  We are about a week and a half and 5 states away from our home.  My U.S. geography is coming back!

So here is what our world looks like:

two kids that now call our traveling caravan home,

one Tahoe packed full with Ember jewelry and displays,

a roof box that holds our clothes and is collecting stickers from our favorite places,

and a Viking trailer that folds up and down like an accordion.


Somewhere in all of that we are finding a rhythm to everyday life on the road.  Like knowing where the diapers are at all times, or making sure the top hatch in the trailer is closed when a lightening storm and downpour comes out of nowhere in the late afternoon.  Twice.

We figure that most days we will find a campsite as home base and unfold the Viking while we visit a new town and meet with an Ember account.  And there will also be the occasional night where we will appreciate the reprieve of a hotel room to clean up and do some laundry.   And then there will be days where in order to cover some ground, we need to drive late into the night and we will just transfer the sleeping babes into the half pitched Viking for a quick over night stop.

A couple of nights ago was one of those nights.  We were nearing the end of an epic drive through southern Utah.  We had stayed in breathtaking Zion for a couple nights, then were awed by the hoodoos of Bryce canyon, and were on our way to Arches National Park before crossing the state line into Colorado.  It was late when we pulled into Torrey, Utah hungry and tired.  At this point we hadn’t quite worked out dinner on the fly outside the Viking’s small kitchen area .  (Don’t worry, we have since coined the term “road-dillas” thanks to the Colman stove and a few tortillas).  Against all odds we found the only restaurant open at that hour in the tiny town.  Diablo cafe quickly seated us and served one of the best meals we have ever had.  This place is a diamond in the rough with two professional chefs creating unique southern style dishes.  Better yet, our waitress suggested a close by spot where we could pull over and camp below the radar.  She instructed us to go to the end of a nearby dirt road and park anywhere and not to worry because it’s BLM land.  I’m still not sure what that means.

So we found this little spot and although we agreed that it was a little too close for comfort to the few surrounding homes, we were too tired to switch course and we popped the Viking just enough to fit inside.  Meanwhile another car pulled up, intending to do the same. It was a little awkward, but as soon as we decided we were safe, we all climbed in and hunkered down for the night.

Within an hour both Clay and I woke up to the sound of a raging windstorm ripping through the canvas of the Viking.  It sounded like large objects were being thrown against our small trailer.  It was impossible to sleep and we spent the night checking in with each other every hour or so wondering if the whole trailer was going to blow over.  Luckily the girls slept through the whole thing.  So when the sun finally rose, they were bright eyed, rested and full of energy and we crawled out of the trailer about the same time the people in the car next to us did…all feeling like we had been beat up.

So on we went, laughing about our attempt at some quick free camping.  Later that day we crossed the Colorado state line and wound our way up to Gunnison, a small town nestled in the beautiful Rocky mountains.  We met with Western State College and introduced them to the Ember story and welcomed Deb and the bookstore staff to the family of Ember retailers.

Driving down the east side of the Rockies, we got an invitation to stay at the Peace home.  6 years ago when we moved to Shell Beach the first thing we did was inquire about a bright red VW bus for sale on the side of the road.  This led us to the home of Jeff and Terri Peace and thus began our friendship and our bus story. Little did we know they had moved to Greeley CO, and they had answered our call for places to stay.  We enjoyed warm beds, laundry and Colorado brewed beer for a few days before hitting the open road to the mid-west; uncharted territory for both of us.

To be continued…

The Prosperity Line

A couple months back I wrote about the “true poverty line,” the income level below which transformational change is nearly impossible, and above which it becomes feasible.

I’ve renamed it the “Prosperity Line,” and we’re going to find out where it lies. At least for the women we work with. My friend Max and I have been working on a questionnaire to determine how much income one of our Uganda partners really needs in order to pursue her dreams. Dreams of educating her children, building a family home, starting a business, and more.

Not only will we keep you updated on our findings, we’re also going to post the questionnaire here when it’s completed, so other businesses and organizations can use it.

The poverty line is only step one. Here’s to chasing the Prosperity Line.