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.

The smoldering seeds of our dreams

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My toes had gone numb from the cold but the tip of my nose was burning as I listened to the lapping of tiny waves against the shoreline. Kneeling on the damp sand, leaning over the short concrete barrier, I blew small puffs of breath into the glowing embers of a bonfire. Squinting to avoid the emerging billows of smoke, everything I saw was through an orange tinted filter. As I continued to blow on the embers and the small pieces of wood, the flames grew taller, brighter and warmer.

Bonfires are a tradition in the beach towns of southern California that I have grown particularly fond of. Something about moonlight makes the ocean that much more regal and S’mores always satisfy the sweet tooth in me. I learned how to start a fire back in my days as a Girl Scout. I even have a badge to prove it. Though I don’t particularly like hauling the wood or having the smell of smoke coat my clothes, breathing those first breaths of fuel into the sparks of a fire is empowering. With a whisper from my mouth, flames arise.

Which makes me think about dreams.

Like tiny sticks and tinder, we collect ideas, goals, and visions of what could be. We stack that all up and pour on some lighter fluid in the form of advice, wisdom, research, and funding. We then strike a match, say yes, sign the documents, open the doors and get started. We step back, expecting an instant burning, hoping for sky-high flames, waiting for a warming glow.

But perhaps your sticks just sit there, soaking, and the match has burned out. The knees of your pants are getting wet and your toes are just too cold. The fire is not igniting.

And that’s a very hard place to be. We’ve all been there, at some time or another. We’ve done everything right, everything we were taught, everything they told us to do, and… nothing. No fire.

Did you breath on it? Have you knelt down, gotten really close, took the time to get lower, and breathed?

Perhaps it’s time to stop collecting wood, to stop relying on the lighter fluid or the gasoline. Perhaps your dreams need a little bit of your own breath. Perhaps your breath could help ignite the dreams of other people. By breath I’m referring to pep talks, prayers, positive reenforcement, and petitions. What’s the one little thing that could turn dreams into realities, turn the embers into flames? Maybe it’s asking someone for help, encouraging a friend, asking yourself hard questions, offering advice, listening to your heart.

Making dreams come true is no easy feat. You might get some smoke in your eyes, singe your finger tips, get your knees dirty. But our best dreams are like embers, smoldering little seeds of possibility just waiting to be kindled into reality. Chase your dreams. Help others achieve theirs. Don’t forget to take deep breaths, and figure out the little fuel that your fire just might need.

Beads that buy hope

Shop jewelry

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.

Get Excited in 2013

Belief + Love = Passion

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A few weeks ago I realized I was boring. Not boring to other people (or not more than usual), but boring to myself.

A friend asked me as I rode shotgun in his car through Kampala if I was excited about my upcoming travels—from Uganda to the USA and back. I told him that I was glad to make them, but not excited, really. This answer, honest as it was, unsettled me.

Later that day, still unsettled, I thought back over the last year. Often when someone asked me, “What are you up to lately?” or “What’s going on with you these days?”, I had nothing to tell them that I was excited about. My life wasn’t exciting to me.

Which is stupid.

There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me. 

 

I don’t much care if my life is exciting to other people. But to spend my hours on things that aren’t even exciting to me is a waste.

The next day, on a layover in transit to the US, I sat in Ethiopia’s international airport and started writing. What would 2013 look like if I filled it with things that I was excited about? 

Excitement and passion are closely tied. We’re excited to do the things we’re passionate about. Everything else eventually becomes tedium. Being a pretty cerebral person I had long thought that passion just meant really strong belief. Like if I just really believed in an idea or a cause then I would, de facto, be passionate about it, and so would be excited to spend my hours, days, and years on it.

But this hasn’t turned out to be true. There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me.

There in the airport in Addis Abababa I realized that belief wasn’t enough, that there is something more to passion. That missing piece, I think, is best called Love.

We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

 

Love in this sense is that deep, reasonless affinity we feel for certain things and activities and people, and not for others. Like preferring tennis over golf, or liking one friend’s sense of humor more than most, or the joy I find in writing that I don’t find in 100 other types of work.

We don’t like these things because we believe in them or have reasoned them out. We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

This sort of reasonless love mixed with deep belief makes passion. Or for the mathematically minded: Passion = Belief + Love. The overlap of belief and love, I think, is where we find the sort of sustaining passion that will keep us excited about our lives day after week after month after year.

At least that’s what I’m hoping. I hope that in 2013 every time someone asks me what’s happening in my life I have something exciting to tell them. Not exciting to them, necessarily. Exciting to me.