Elena Bondar, Ember Hero

In Elena’s honor, we are donating 50% of our online sales for one month to her nonprofit program Two Wings. Click to shop our Spring Collection.Elena Bondar, Ember Hero

Elena Bondar downplays her big move. About six months ago she quit her comfortable job in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles, a city where she had never lived and knew almost no one, in order to chase her dream.

But she’s not trying to act or sing. Elena is building a program to launch survivors of sex trafficking towards their dream careers. She calls the program Two Wings. Sex trafficking, she told us, is not confined to the infamous red light districts of Thailand and India. It’s a frighteningly large and hidden criminal industry in America, too. And Los Angeles is one of its centers.

Elena was born in the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union. Her family was persecuted by the communist regime because of their religion and they dreamed of escaping to America. Finally, in 1988, they got the chance.

“We packed one suitcase per person to journey to an unknown land,” she said. “I was five years old when we left our home and was not happy to leave the only life I knew.” Continue reading

Ember Featured by Darling Magazine

The good people at Darling Magazine published an article on Ember this weekend. Below is an excerpt. Read the rest on the Darling site.

When you hear “African refugee woman living in extreme poverty,” you probably don’t picture a woman who has big dreams for herself and her family. I certainly didn’t.

But for the last four years I’ve worked closely with a small group of Ugandan women who lived that story. My company Ember Arts partners with 28 Ugandan women to create beautiful handmade jewelry. All of these women fled their homes to save themselves and their families from a civil war. And all of them survived a depth of poverty that I didn’t even know existed until I left the US.

I’ve learned that not only do they have big dreams, they get after them.

Ugandan women working in the Acholi Quarters rock quarry.
Before partnering with Ember, the Ugandan women we partner with crushed rocks into gravel for $1 per day in this rock quarry.

When I first met the women who would become our partners I saw my relationship to them as a sort of math problem. Their needs exceeded their resources. If I could help them balance that equation, all would be well.

But then we started to become friends. I heard their stories. I got to know their kids. I started to hear their hopes and dreams for the future.

Agnes wanted to finish her education, Jackie wanted to start her own salon, Esther wanted to build a house in the same village that she once fled at the ends of rebel bayonets. All of them wanted to send their kids to good schools and see them achieve the sort of success that would transform their families and communities.

This was more than just math.

Read the rest over at Darling Magazine.