This is Also Africa

fair trade jewelry

When you hear the word “Uganda” what do you think about? When you think about Africa, what pictures pop into your head? While some of us have been to the African continent and experienced it’s nations first hand, many of us have formulated ideas and notions of what we think Africa is like.

Our Ember Arts jewelry designer Emily lives in the Uganda’s capital Kampala. She is always sharing with us about her adventures and experiences living and working in Uganda. Recently she has been posting pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #africaisalsothis revealing the upscale, glamorous, modern and artistic side of Uganda.

Today we asked her to share on the blog some of her experiences with the other side of life in Uganda.

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A couple of weeks ago, I met my roommates at a little cafe after work, where I ordered a couscous, grilled vegetable, and halloumi cheese salad. While we waited for the food, I logged into their free wifi and Instagrammed a photo of their cool rustic wood wall with a map of the world painted on it.

 

Bistro, Kampala

After dinner, we walked across the road to the mall, which houses a two-story 3D movie theater. A European style restaurant and bakery shares its outdoor dining space with the theater entrance, and to enter is like passing through an olifactory gauntlet. Fresh breads, croissants, and cakes filled the air with a buttery warmth, mixing with the candied sweetness of fresh gelato and bitter earthiness of expresso.

Up the escalator and past a boutique featuring the work of internationally recognized local fashion designers, the lights of the theater shine brightly, advertising newly released Hollywood films. Tickets cost only $4 for the Monday matinee, and a small line is already forming in the lobby. A young woman with bright red lipstick leans lazily across the counter next to the popcorn machine, waiting for customers.

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I don’t go to the theater very often, but for some, that’s just a typical Monday night in Uganda.

Judging by the western world’s panicked response to Ebola, most of us have a very incomplete picture of life on the African continent. It is true that there are small towns and villages with poor access to sanitation, information, and medical care, where outbreaks spread easily due to misinformation and poor resources. But here in Uganda, the airport quickly instituted a health screening for arriving passengers, and everyone carried on with life as usual.

Uganda has its fair share of slums and poverty, and much of the population still lives in remote villages, depending on rain and soil for the fields of corn and plantains that build their diet. But things are rapidly changing. More and more of those farmers get crop price updates via text message or an app, and pay one another with a few presses of a button through mobile money on their phones. In the cities, government workers and wealthy business owners dine in the hotel gardens and discuss the latest Tom Brown novel. Young people work their way through law school, arrange TEDx events and performance art pieces, and meet their friends for happy hour at a trendy new wine bar after a busy day at work. They speak three or four languages, and slip easily back-and-forth between English, Luganda, and their own tribal tongues.

It’s this latter Uganda that represents the future of the nation, as technology closes the gaps of geography and information. Though we may tend to idealize grass roofed huts and village farms, many contemporary Ugandans are choosing modern technology and lifestyles for themselves, blended with the best and most vibrant parts of their own culture. They envision their country competing well on an international level, and many, especially the youth, have the ideas and the drive to take it there.

A couple of years ago, Ember Arts brought a few of the women from our partner co-op to visit one of the malls as part of the preparation for a photoshoot. Most hadn’t realized they were allowed to go inside and walk around any time they wanted to, and had never seen such clean and bright shops before.

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Living on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital city, our artisans are often on the outskirts of these changes as well. Their children, though, have grown up with cell phones and Facebook just like American youth. In partnering with these women, we hope that the money they spend on educating their kids gives those children the resources they need to participate as equals in a changing world.

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Uganda is a beautiful nation, it’s people progressive, creative, tenacious and full of hope. We at Ember Arts are privileged to live in, work from, and partner with such a place as Uganda. #africaisalsothis

Read more about Emily’s story here.

Shop jewelry handmade by our Ugandan artisans here.

Gifts Without Bows

Gift Giving

 

There’s something spectacular about watching someone you love light up at the sight of a meaningful or much anticipated gift. Sometimes, though, in the rush of holiday sales, it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of presents and wish lists and forget the reason for all that giving. We give because we care about those around us, and want to show them that they are loved and thought of. But expressing that to one another doesn’t always need to involve wrapping paper and bows.

Christmas in Uganda hasn’t quite caught up with the commercialization of the western world, and is usually just a reason to return to the village and spend time with family. And though there are no present-laden Christmas trees, the ladies in our partner co-op can think of plenty of ways to give meaningful gifts to the people they care about.

Gifts without bows – How Ugandan women give generously

Christine gives Service 

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This year, Christine gave the gift of service. Her oldest daughter is in medical school, attending classes during the day and studying at night. Like any other busy  student, she doesn’t have much time to take care of the small things in life that accumulate, like washing dishes and doing laundry. One day, while her daughter was out, Christine brought food to the hostel where she stays, and spent an afternoon cleaning the small room to surprise her studious daughter.

Anna gives Laughter 

anna-laughterAnna doesn’t speak a bit of English. But she comes to every single Ember Arts meeting armed with a enormous grin and a joke, and through them gives the gift of laughter. Her joy makes visitors feel welcome, even without words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace gives Encouragement

grace-encouragementGrace has a son who was struggling in school. Instead of speaking to him out of frustration and disappointment, Grace gave him the gift of encouragement, letting him know that she believed in his abilities to study and do well. With hard work and his mother’s kind words, her son improved and passed his exams.

Esther gives Forgiveness 

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Esther recalled a story from her village, a very powerful tale of the intangible gift of forgiveness. The daughter of her aunt was in an ongoing feud with a male relative. One day, in anger, she burned all of his property. The village intervened and the two reconciled, and were thrown a special sort of party where the man forgave the woman who had wronged him. These days, they are friends.

 

 

 

Margaret gives Belonging

margret-loveorbelongingGiving gifts like these to friends and family are incredibly important, but Margret, after much prompting from others, shared a story about the way she gave a gift of love and belonging to a boy she barely knew. One day, she met the boy and realized that he was a classmate of her son. He explained to her that he had a sponsor who paid for his school fees, and that people from his village had been paying for his meals. Unfortunately, they had to stop sending money during the third term, and he was barely getting by. Without hesitation, Margret invited him to join her family for meals- every day.

 

 

 

When you give Ember Arts jewelry to your friends and family, you are giving not just a necklace, but opportunity- for these women and their children. But we also hope you’ll take a moment to slow down and think of ways to give intangible things. Take in a co-worker who has no family to celebrate. Watch your neighbor’s children so she has some free time to relax and plan for holiday festivities. Share a meal and some kind words with someone who needs encouragement. Be patient and kind in the busy lines at the store. Service, encouragement, forgiveness, and love are all powerful gifts that truly represent the spirit of the holidays, and we hope that this Christmas, you’ll find ways to give more than just stuff.

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.