Back to School

Early on a Monday morning, all of Acholi Quarters is buzzing with children in freshly washed uniforms as mothers, fathers, or grandparents help them carry a term’s worth of school supplies to the first day of classes. There are notebooks, pens, crayons, and even some very practical classroom supplies like bundled grass brooms and toilet paper. Six year-old Tracy is ready with all of these, plus a completed packet of homework assignments.

She looks a little dazed as her mother pulls on her socks and shoes. The sun is barely up, after all, and it’s the first day back to school after a long break. Her older sister Margaret, four years ahead of her in P5 (primary school level 5), is a seasoned morning veteran. She is in and out of the room preparing the breakfast while she works on shirt buttons and shoe buckles. Both girls finish up a cup of tea and some bread before heading out the door to walk down the hill to their school.

Our partners here in Uganda are eager to show off their freshly washed and uniformed children on the first day of school, and throughout the day they drop by the office with children and a pile of school supplies to make sure their child is photographed too. Education of their children and grandchildren is one of the highest priorities and biggest dreams for their future.

School fees, though, are too often an obstacle in this community. As the sea of uniforms dies down and the students settle in to their first day of classes, the neighborhood is still surprisingly full of children playing games and sitting on front stoops, children whose families cannot afford to send them to school. Steady jobs with fair wages are a profoundly important way to bring about change in Uganda, allowing parents like our partners in Acholi quarters the opportunity to educate their children and provide them with everything they need to succeed.

Meet our jewelry designer, Emily Grace Goodrich

Making Jewelry

Designing beautifully elegant jewelry isn’t simple. Designing beautifully elegant jewelry out of recycled material adds even more complication to the process. 

Emily, our jewelry designer, designs beautifully elegant jewelry out of recycled material and then teaches a group of 28 Ugandan women how to make all of our designs ready for our American retail market. 

Emily Goodrich, spends a majority of her year living in San Diego fulfilling various roles at the Ember Arts office. However, her greatest contribution to our company is her tremendous ability to design paper bead jewelry. 

For the next four months, Emily, will be living in Uganda teaching all of our Ugandan partners how to make our 2013 collection, a collection we believe to be our best yet. 

To learn more about Emily and to understand how she continually pushes the limits of what is possible with paper jewelry, we asked her a few questions. Her answers, about the work she does, are fascinating and reveal a side of Ember Arts most people never get to see. Here is what she shared. Enjoy.

As a jewelry designer what exactly do you do for Ember Arts?

My job entails forecasting jewelry and color trends in the U.S., and using what I know about our own market and the available materials in Uganda to find a middle ground. I do a bit of resource research as well, I just finished a day of scouring the markets to see what sort of new materials we might be able to incorporate into our jewelry. I also spend time in Uganda teaching things like color theory. For an idea of what that looks like, check out the sway earring, which is a piece I’m very proud of the bead makers for mastering, as light tints and a dark shades of a central color were once new concepts for them. We are continually working to build a color vocabulary that makes sense across cultures.

What will you be focusing your attention on while you are in Uganda?

We’ve already had a touch-up training session to remember the new designs for Fall/Holiday 2012, and to learn about making a great multicolor piece. In the next weeks, I’m going to be working with a smaller group of women to experiment with new bead shapes and new materials, and potentially some entirely new products. Then, I’ll be narrowing down a group of designs to start the training for 2013. I’ll also be looking for new kinds of materials that we can incorporate into the jewelry. In the past we’ve used ‘cavera,’ which is the local word for plastic bags. There are lots of interesting materials in the market, but they’re often available only once. Part of the work is to determine which items will be available consistently.

How many times have you been to Uganda?

This is my fourth trip to Uganda.

What is it like to work with a group of 28 Ugandan women, some of which you can not communicate with because of the language barrier? 

It’s a little challenging at times, sometimes I have to work with a translator, and I’ve definitely had to get used to being laughed at. These women love to joke, and it doesn’t always translate! But they are also starting to feel more and more like old friends. I’ve learned about 30 words in the Acholi language, and they get a huge kick out of it. They are also quick learners, mostly they teach themselves by looking at the samples, which makes things a lot easier for me. And I’ve learned a lot from them as well, like how to get a fair price for fabric at the market. You should see the glaring look of disgust that our smiling Gladies can pull off, which usually drops the price by at least 10,000 shillings!

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