Ember Ambassadors West Coast Road Trip!

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Did you know that Ember Arts is a family owned and operated business?

Clayton and Jessica Connolly (together with their parents, daughters, siblings, an artist in Uganda, and a couple of college students) bring life to the business and story of Ember Arts. Together they are empowering dreamers and working to build a compassionate, sustainable network of individuals who can make a positive impact in their world.

During the whole month of August the Connolly family is taking the Ember Arts story and hitting the road. They’re calling this adventure the Ember Ambassadors West Coast Road Trip.

Read some more about Ember Ambassadors as the Connolly’s share their plans for their road trip:

What are three reasons why you are taking your family and your business on a month-long road trip? 

1. We simply love being on the road and seeing new places. Our girls have so much fun playing road games like “I Spy” and blasting music while singing along. We also believe that traveling to new places and seeing new sites is so enriching to young minds. We want our daughters to grow up knowing how big the world is and valuing every single person they come across during life.

2. Ember Arts is in a stage of expansion, a time when we are striving to grow our business and further our sphere of influence. Simply put, we want to see our jewelry sold in more stores, so we’re going out adventuring in search of those new partners.

3. Also, from past experiences we’ve learned that individuals are more likely to purchase a product when they can shake the hand of the person who is selling. We so value meeting with people face to face, sharing stories, and building relationships. We want to be as authentic and intentional as possible when interacting with our partners and customers. What a better way to build relationships than to simply stop by and say hi.

Meet the Connolly family - Clayton, Jessica, Kairah, Shiloh, and River. If you're on the West Coast, be keeping your eyes out for them.

Meet the Connolly family – Clayton, Jessica, Kairah, Shiloh, and River. If you’re on the West Coast, be keeping your eyes out for them.

Give us a glimpse into your travel plans. What will you be doing? 

Our plan is to drive up the West Coast of the United States, starting in our home base of  San Diego and ending in Seattle. We are hoping to stop in as many towns and cities as possible, meeting with retail store owners. We’ll shake lots of hands, pass out business cards, and give away free jewelry, all with the intention of sharing the Ember Arts story.

Your road trip sounds amazing! How can I join in on the fun? 

We would love to have you become a part of the Ember Ambassadors story. Here a couple of ways you can join us.

1. Follow us on Instagram (@emberarts) and on Facebook (search Ember Arts) to see fun photos of our trip.

2. Help us make our travel plans, tell us where we should go! Do you have a favorite boutique, bookstore, or gift shop on the West Coast that you think should sell Ember Arts jewelry? Let us know and we’ll try to stop by that store. You can send us your thoughts by emailing info@emberarts.com or commenting on any of our social media posts.

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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Ugandan Women Respond to Kony 2012

Kony 2012 Banner

Today I showed our Ugandan partners ‘Kony 2012′. For any who don’t know, ‘Kony 2012′ is a 30-minute film by Invisible Children that became the most viral video of all time, getting over 100 million views in about one week. It aims to rally US support to stop Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army that terrorized Uganda for two decades, and continues to terrorize three central African countries.

I wanted them to see the film because it impacts them more than it does me, and so their thoughts on the subject are valuable and can help guide my own.

During the 30-minute runtime their eyes were glued to the screen of my laptop. I have never seen them so attentive. At times they would whisper recognitions and explanations to each other. When Kony or LRA victims were shown they would often sound the unique tsk-tsk-tsk of Acholi displeasure.

When the film ended I asked them for their thoughts.

It was clear that the wounds of two decades of violence are still very tender. Women immediately started sharing stories of their own families – children lost to abductions, siblings lost to violence.

And this led to their first reaction to the film and its plan: it comes twenty years too late for Uganda. You can imagine the sting. America, the world’s great super power, finally awakens to your two decades of terror and loss, only after those decades are over, only after you have started the long, slow, painful work of healing and rebuilding. And finally now they want to stop Kony.

But beyond that reaction they saw that stopping Kony will save hundreds of thousands Congolese, Central African Republicers, and South Sudanese from the sort of pain that they and their families have been through.

The Ugandan government failed to stop Kony, they said. Indeed, it seemed unconcerned with stopping him. The local peace processes failed to bring an end to the violence. The only hope, they believe, is American support and military action. And at least one of them would rather Kony be killed on the spot than given the dignity of a trial.

But whether captured or killed, if Kony was stopped in 2012, they all agreed that there would be a deep collective sense of relief in northern Uganda. They still fear him. They are scared to this day that he and his terrorizing forces will return to Uganda. If Kony is stopped, they told me, all of northern Uganda will celebrate.

The ‘Eighty Four’ Necklace, or Dreams as Development

Ember Arts Eighty Four Necklace

How do you help a poor country develop? Give them credit. Western-style education. More international trade.

This isn’t development, it’s duplication. When wealthy western donors envision a better Uganda or Haiti or Nicaragua, we see something that looks like America or Western Europe, just with a different ratio of skin-tones. It’s all we know.

Power imposes itself. The American lifestyle looks like paradise to most people. Can you imagine a small-plot farmer who wouldn’t like to trade his dirty, sun-baked, subsistence labor for the endless dance party he sees in American music videos? Or even the landcruiser-driving, bar-haunting life of the international development professional? It’s the best life he has ever seen.

I had a Ugandan friend in Gulu who worked with me for an American non-profit. When he got a promotion and a raise he invited me over to his apartment to show me his new satellite television, which flashed American action movies and music videos.

Development should not duplicate American prosperity. Development should fuel the unique prosperity of the people and place that seek to develop. This is a completely different process, and will have a very different outcome.

This sort of development takes a deep understanding of the culture, needs, and opportunities of a place, the sort of understanding usually found only in people who were born and raised there. When these people dream of a better home they aren’t envisioning a new America. They are dreaming of something totally unique, something that could only come from their people and their slice of earth.

Our partnership with the Ugandan women who make our jewelry is founded on them pursuing their dreams for their families and communities, rather than us pursuing our American version of a better Uganda.

Our new ‘Eighty Four’ necklace is symbolic of this commitment. Each of our 28 partners has shared 3 dreams they would like to accomplish. That’s 84 dreams in all. The necklace has 84 beads, one for each dream.

And we added one extra bead, a pure white one, to represent the dream of the woman who buys and wears the necklace, and how she is now connected to the women who made it.

Shop online by March 23 and 50% of your purchase will be donated to the non-profit Two Wings, in honor of Ember Hero Elena Bondar. Click here to shop.

Times x 20

It was an unexpected statistic in our research.  Twenty sounded high, but the numbers were right there, double-checked.  Each displaced Ugandan we employed spread the benefits of their income to approximately 20 people around them – children, spouses, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, parents and grandchildren; all of them benefitted from a single, well-earned income.

I was working with a nonprofit called Invisible Children, running part of their operation in northern Uganda.  We had just finished conducting a round of research among the beneficiaries of my program, trying to plumb the details of how our work was helping, and where it might be falling short.

This was arguably the single most important finding in shaping my work and understanding.  These impoverished, war stricken Acholi people, most of whom had never made a fair day’s wage in their lives, took the money they earned, which was still low by American standards, and essentially gave it away to 20 people around them.  They used it where it was needed most, filling needs that we never would have seen.

Acholi Beads now partners with 16 similarly displaced Acholi women.  It’s safe to assume that these women also spread their earnings to 20 people each – about 320 people total.  That’s an impact.

And we want to do more.  A lot more.

This idea of “Times 20” inspires us.  We know that if we can partner with enough women, a whole community can be changed.  They will use their earnings to make sure their families are cared for, and to raise up a new generation of Acholi leaders.  So we have set a goal.  We want to partner with 100 women by 2010.  Does your mind immediately do the math?  That’s 2,000 people benefiting from the sale of this beautiful jewelry.

How will Acholi Quarters change when this is a reality?  How many more kids will be in school?  How big will the smiles be on the faces of the 100 women?  And their children?

We’re excited to find out.  Help us get there.

Contact us to find out about distributing Acholi Beads in your area.  The more we can work to expand the market, the more women we can partner with, and the more people benefit.

Uganda Divided

Here’s a link to a great article about divisions in Ugandan society.  The writer points out the geopolitical rivalries between north and south, and touches upon the tumultuous history of regime change that has led to the current situation in northern Uganda.  She does not, however, trace these forces back to their roots, most of which can be found in the policies that the British colonial government used.

It’s important to remember that “tribal tensions” are not some sort of endemic disease of African culture.  Imagine what might happen if you were to erase all the borders in Europe and let those countries figure out how to govern themselves as a whole.  It would not be pretty.  This is what it was like for Uganda in the early 1900s, when many tribes were grouped together under one flag and then employed according to stereotype.

The process of unification and reconciliation will be a historical one, just as the unity between the Union and the Confederates has taken time, and cultural differences remain to this day.  But Uganda must unify if it is to thrive.

A faint glow of peace

Last week the peace talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army began again in Juba, Southern Sudan. These talks are the closest the Acholi people have been in over 20 years to finding peace, and last week marks a significant renewal of commitment to their positive conclusion, and to peace for a hurting people.

A friend of mine was recently in Juba to observe the talks. He brings good news. He says that rhetoric between the two negotiating sides has softened considerably since the talks began last year. And whereas they once required separate tables for meals, they now eat and talk together.

Most importantly, both sides are confident that a comprehensive peace agreement will be signed within the next month!

There is a faint but brightening glow of peace on the horizon. We’ll keep you updated.

LRA Leader Ready for Peace Agreement

The secretive leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, said yesterday on a northern Uganda radio station that he is ready and waiting to sign a final peace agreement. This is a very positive step. Kony had been silent since the LRA’s second in command and chief communicator, Vincent Otti, was executed by Kony last November.

By calling for a peace agreement now, Kony may be trying to avoid a military offensive threatened by the Ugandan government in conjunction with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two governments agreed earlier this month that if progress was not made on the peace talks by January 31, they would coordinate to flush the LRA out of their secluded base in the jungles of Congo.

To ensure that all parties involved refrain from dangerous military action that could further devastate northern Uganda and the Acholi people, please go to the Resolve Uganda site and send an email to your Congressperson.