Beads that buy hope

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What are your top three dreams?

This is a question we like to ask here at Ember. It’s a question we asked of our artisans in Uganda at the very beginning of our partnership. There is hardly a more beautiful sight than the radiance of an African woman’s face when she lights up and shares her dreams.

And it’s amazing that the women still dream. After surviving the brutality of civil war, poverty, domestic violence, and social injustice their dreams are fully fueled. The women each have individual, unique, and inspiring dreams, but one thing made it to the top three of every single one of their lists.

Education.

We asked each of our partners what she was dreaming of, and every women answered with dreams of education. Stella dreams of seeing her children graduate from university. Agnes dreams of owning a computer and finishing her own schooling. Lucy has nieces and nephews who she wants to purchase school uniforms for.

The women have dreams and incredible work ethics, now all they need is our support.

This is why Ember Arts is so proud to introduce our Library Bead Collection. Made from recycled book pages, the jewelry is a testament of hope. With every purchase of Ember Arts jewelry, our Ugandan partners are one step closer to earning the finances they need to fund their dreams of education.

We hope that the Library Bead Collection will inspire you to make a difference in the lives of Ugandan women, remind you of the value of education, and take you deeper into the journey of cultivating beautiful dreams.

Library Bead Collection Look Book 

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I will always remember him

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When I was eight years old I went on a trip to Swaziland, Africa and brought with me my diary and imagination. There I met a boy who could not have been more different than me, yet we became instant friends. When I was eight years old, I began to understand things like race, social status, and what money could buy, but I hadn’t yet allowed those things to determine my perceptions of people. I became friends with that boy because he had a nice smile, his dog would lick my hand, and we could together throw rocks into the hillside. We had nothing in common and were from completely different worlds. I had years of opportunity ahead of me. He had very little to get him through the day. 

After a month of play time, as I was prepping to depart, the boy asked me to do one simple thing for him. I thought very little of his request at the time, but over the years his words have stuck with me. His words have changed the way I think about people, and the way I think about my purpose in this life.

“Don’t forget about me.”

The boy knew that I would leave Africa and that I would go home to America, and that I would return to a life far different from his. And all he wanted was for me to remember, to record his presence, to acknowledge his existence.

I have.

I don’t remember the boy’s name, or hardly anything about him, but I remember the way he made me feel. He didn’t make me feel white, or rich, or like a tourist in his town. He simply treated me like he would any other playmate. He was ready and willing to do life with me.

Market in Swaziland.

This is me, at eight years old in Swaziland. My mother and I loved shopping at the local markets and meeting the beautiful women.

I started working at Ember Arts just a few months ago, and with every story I hear about the work we are doing in Uganda, I am brought back to the memories of the times I spent in Swaziland with that boy.

At Ember we are all about doing life with our partners in Uganda. This means that we don’t care if our skin is different colors, or if many of our employees are separated by oceans. We will still throw rocks into the hillside, we will still laugh, and play, and hold your children. We will dream with you.

Zebras in AfricaI have learned that one of the first steps towards dreaming is remembering. When teaching people how to dream again, we must first acknowledge the past from where they come. We recognize the atrocities that our Ugandan partners have suffered through. We have cried over their lost children, their broken families, their wounded bodies. We have sat in silence contemplating what to do with those memories of hurt.

And we have been blown away by the brilliant smiles the Ugandan people still wear on their faces. The Ugandan women and men who we have grown to love and cherish and support have taught us that all we need in this world is to remember that we each are human, to acknowledge that we each long to be known.

When I wear Ember Arts jewelry, I’m acknowledging that those Ugandan women are alive, and beautiful, and so worth while.

I will continue to remember that boy who I met so many years ago. I will remember that we all have dreams, and that we all deserve to live them.

I promised him. So I will.

Designing Jewelry, Inspiring Dreams

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This is Emily Grace Goodrich — designer and dreamer. She is the creative mind behind Ember Arts and has served as our jewelry designer in Kampala, Uganda for the past five years. She brings color, vibrancy, and ingenuity to both our products and the Ember Arts story.

Not a single day is the same for Emily, living in Uganda, though every morning she wakes to the sound of chickens clucking. She will often take a white minivan taxi into town to visit the Owina Market, where she searches for used paper and old books to use in Ember Arts designs. Several times a week she travels to the outskirts of the city to a neighborhood called Acholi Quarters, where the women of Ember Arts work and live. Emily is there to conduct meetings and train the women on crafting jewelry. It is a lifestyle she loves — something so much more than a job.

We are so very proud to have Emily on our team and are grateful for the beauty she brings to the Ember Arts family.

Ember Arts: You studied Interdisciplinary Studio Arts in college – do any of the skills you learned in school influence the way you design Ember Arts jewelry?

Emily Goodrich: I think there are similarities in some ways. I mostly studied painting and photography, but things like color and pattern and line are applicable across all creative fields. I think my designs are a lot more influenced by the ebb and flow of materials into Uganda. It’s tricky to figure out which jewelry components will be available in the local markets consistently; and so more and more, I’m trying to look toward alternative sorts of materials. 

emilyWhat is something you’ve learned from the Ugandan women you work with?

I’ve definitely learned a lot about hospitality and resilience from them, but lately, we’ve been learning together the value of celebration. This last year has had its fair share of bumps and challenges for the group and for individuals in it, but we’ve decided to start bringing a little fun into our meetings. We threw a small party the last time an order shipped to the U.S., and had refreshments and played a few silly games. The ladies have decided that this should be standard: they’re usually focused on business, and they realized that it’s important to enjoy each other’s presence.

 

When you talk to your friends and family in America, what is one thing you wish they would know or understand about the state of life in Uganda? 

No matter how many times I say otherwise, people still think I live in a mud hut. There are certainly people here that do, but Uganda is growing and changing. It’s a place of strange juxtapositions.

Uganda has its fair share of dirt roads, slums, and political struggles, but every single one of the women we work with has a mobile phone, and they know how to send text messages and mobile money. A lot of them have TVs and stereos in their homes, and are sitting and watching Columbian telenovelas and other international television shows during lunch. There are also opportunities for entrepreneurs and enterprising folks everywhere. 

This is why I think the work that we’re doing at Ember Arts  is so important. Most of the Ember ladies are content to move back to the village one day, but their children are going to inherit this new world of technology and rapidly changing information — even here in Uganda. When these women who we work with are able to send their kids  to secondary schools and universities, I think it helps to ensure those children a voice in the future of their country.

There is a lot of room to do some good in the world with our purchasing power.

 

Someday you’ll be moving away from Kampala. What’s next on your list of adventures? What are you dreaming of doing? 

I really enjoy “making things,” so I think I’ll always be interested in the way that human beings interact with one another as consumers and producers. There is a lot of room to do some good in the world with our purchasing power. There are also a lot of ways to do harm. Eventually, I’d love to figure out how to make those ideas more accessible to people, especially when the assumption is that things like organic and fair trade have to equal expensive. There’s a whole lot for me to think through before I have any concrete steps, but I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing experiences in those areas. I’d love to share them in a tangible way, with a blog or maybe even a retail space.

What is one piece of advice you can give to others who are dreaming of making a positive impact on the world? 

Stop dreaming about it, and just start moving forward. I often find myself getting stuck in the realm of “maybe someday,” and I’m learning that even baby steps will get you there faster than waiting for the right time or enough resources. If you need money, start putting change in a jar. If you’re waiting for more free time, spend just fifteen minutes a day working toward that goal. Little things add up.

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Agnes Dreams of Education

The first thing you’ll notice about Agnes is her great sense of style. She’s always well put together, or as they say in Uganda, “looking smart.” Perhaps this is because she has a designers eye; in addition to her work with Ember Arts, she is constantly making jewelry of her own and testing out new ideas. Her creativity, though, is well balanced by a gifted mind that constantly seeks out opportunities to learn new things.

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At every meeting in Acholi Quarters, you’ll find Agnes huddled over a notebook, adding figures or taking records. These days, she’s the person you call to organize a meeting, or the representative sent to town to purchase supplies like earring hooks and string for the group. She has a quick wit and a good sense of humor, and has made herself an invaluable part of the beadmaking group.

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Though she’s easily the best with words and numbers, it’s surprising to learn that she was never able to finish school. For awhile, she was overcome by challenges, and didn’t have the opportunity to pursue her own dreams. These days, though, she is happy to see her children in school, and dreams of finishing her own studies, too. She’s working toward that goal, and even daring to dream smaller things along the way: she’s set her sights on getting access to a computer, and learning to use email, Excel, and other programs that can help her with her work.

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Ember Mother: Paska

Nearly all of the women we partner with through Ember Arts are mothers, and part of the privilege of working with them is the opportunity to see their children grow throughout the years. We frequently have babies and toddlers teetering through the office, and during training sessions, older children stop buy regularly to deliver messages from home and watch their mothers at work.

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Achiro Paska’s two youngest daughters, Emily and Evelin, have been staples at our meetings over the last few years, and she was happy to be asked to show them off and speak more about their lives.

When prompted to share her favorite part about being a mother, Paska couldn’t choose; from pregnancy to teenagers, so far, she’s loved it all. With six children from ages 14 months to 14 years,  she has certainly seen motherhood from many different angles. While she admits to getting annoyed when her children are quarreling with each other, most days she is happy to see them playing well together. They even have a favorite game that she couldn’t quite explain through her laughter, apparently it’s so funny that even the thought of it makes her giggle.

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Paska herself was left with relatives at the age of three, and grew up without a mother. She is determined to live her life differently, no matter what sort of trials she faces. Her advice to other mothers is “Love your children, whatever you are facing, and educate them. If you educate and love them it is good, because they are the future.”

She is most proud of her children when they do well in school,  and working to earn money for their school fees is her greatest concern. Her dream is that they will all finish their educations, and never have to struggle the way she did growing up. 

We are thrilled to be partnering alongside hard-working mothers like Paska, and so grateful for the support of all the women- mothers and otherwise- that help make those dreams a reality.

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Partner Update: Gladies’ New Business

Join our contest on Pinterest to win a Mabira Necklace!gladies_portraitGladies is one of our first partners, which means she’s been working with us for the last five years. We affectionately refer to her as ‘Special Teams’ because she’s smart, dependable, and can get just about anything done. Recently she made a big step towards her dreams by starting her own small business.

Gladies fled from her family home in Amuru, an area in northern Uganda, about a decade ago during the civil war. When she first arrived in the Acholi Quarters community of Uganda’s capital city it was only a collection of mud huts around a stone quarry, where men, women, and children could do hard labor for about $1 per day. That’s what Gladies did to pull her family through.

These days Acholi Quarters is looking a lot better, and so is Gladies’ family. She has three children, and she’s paying for all of them to attend good local schools, an expensive feat in Uganda’s capital.

cover_gladies_smallAnd now Gladies is using her earnings from Ember Arts to expand her earning potential, too. She recently traveled back to Amuru and bought a rice milling machine, and rented a place in a big trading center to collect, mill, and sell rice. Farmers come for miles around to sell their harvest to her.

She partnered with her brother in the business, so now his family is benefiting, too. And they have big plans for the future.

Gladies and her brother plan to put up their own commercial building in the trading center, a place where they can process and store not just rice, but other crops, too. Building, she says, will start in December.

Like most of our partners here in Uganda, Gladies wants to eventually move back to her family home. With the money she’s earned and skills she’s learned as an Ember partner, she’s well on her way to accomplishing that dream.