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.

Acacia Mall, Kampala

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.

Rags to Resources & A Giveaway

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If you had a childhood anything like mine, you were constantly told to think of others and not just yourself, to remember that you are not the only person on the planet. It was difficult at a young age to think about the needs of others and to care enough to put those thoughts into action. This awareness of others is something we learn as children that often gets lost in today’s adult world.

A longing for selflessness and compassion is what motivated Lauren Wallis to start a one of a kind T-shirt company called Youme Clothing. Lauren and a few friends started the business in college, selling T-shirts out of the trunks of their cars to raise money for communities in Africa. Lauren and her husband Marc now have full time day jobs but they continue to give so much of their lives and hearts to the mission of Youme Clothing.

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Lauren of Youme Clothing

The Youme model is simple, yet the impact is wide. Lauren and her many friends have partnerships with communities in Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and Mozambique, places where they have deep friendships with individuals in local churches, nonprofits and government organizations. A few times a year Lauren, Marc and friends will travel to these communities to organize a clothing exchange. At the exchange local children are asked to bring one piece of clothing, their oldest and most worn, to trade for a brand new piece of clothing and/or school uniform.

The Youme team then brings the children’s old clothing with them back to the United States, where the garments are washed, cut and sewn into patches. Those patches of fabric are then sewn onto Youme products – T-shirts, sweatshirts, and pull overs. Proceeds from product sales are then given back to the community to be used in development projects such as building wells, growing gardens, or supplying medical treatments.

“It’s about you before me, your needs before mine,” says Lauren in a short video about the organization, explaining the motivation behind the company’s name.

Lauren and Marc are individuals of such value and worth in the small business community. The entire Ember Arts team is so thankful for the work they are doing to build community, empower dreamers, and put sustainable products in the hands of many people.

This week we are doing a giveaway with Youme Clothing. Head on over to Instagram to enter the contest to win a T-shirt and necklace, and to learn more about Youme Clothing.

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.

Do More Than Just Shop

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Take a minute to think about and choose the top three gifts you’ve ever been given. Go ahead, take your time. I’ll wait.

What were your top three gifts? A cashmere sweater? A new car? A diamond ring? A trip to that place you’ve always dreamed of going to? Or perhaps are the most meaningful gifts something else entirely.

Perhaps the gifts we cherish the most are those that can’t be wrapped, mailed, or re-gifted. They don’t come with a price tag or a gift receipt. I bet some of these types of gifts are now coming to your mind.

Time, hugs, compassion, a listening ear. Laughter, forgiveness, attentiveness, a handwritten note.

We all crave these types of gifts. They’re the ones we enjoy giving the most. Yet these are the gifts we rarely think about and often forget to give.

As we approach Thanksgiving and then Black Friday, Hanukah, Christmas and the New Year, let’s take some time to remember the power of generosity and the many gifts we can so freely give. Let’s bring cookies to the neighbor we barely know and tell someone we believe in them. Let’s ask for forgiveness and give it. Let’s be family to someone who doesn’t have their own and let’s turn off our phones and look that person in the eyes. Let’s play with our children. Let’s share our dreams. Let’s remember that we are so valuable and that we have so so much to give.

Join us on Instagram and Facebook as we Do More Than Just Shop this season. We’ll be sharing ideas of how we can give generously and we’d love to hear from you as well.

Happy Holidays everyone. Peace and love to you from all of us at Ember Arts.

 

 

Hero: Blythe Hill Transcends the Dress

To honor Blythe, we’re donating 50% of all online sales through December 18th to IJM’s fight against human trafficking. Shop here.

Blythe Hill, Ember Hero

“Blythe is a real name,” writes Blythe Hill on Instagram, captioning a series of photos in which her name is butchered on Starbucks cups. Blike, Blthy, Blive, the cups say. One of them, zen-like, says Life.

The photos are stylish, well-snapped. When Blythe is in them she’s deadpan, enjoying the drink and a wry moment with her followers. She is fashionable in a way that makes you think of Pinterest glazed with mid-1900s New York. Her style sense even landed her a position with a leading trend forecasting firm in Los Angeles, advising corporate clients on what’s just over the fashion horizon.

“I get a kick out of getting dressed,” she told me. “It’s a small opportunity to express myself, to be creative.” And it was a silly experiment in creative fashion that ended up inspiring thousands of women around the world and raising over $150,000 last year to fight sex trafficking.

“Dressember started, honestly, out of boredom,” said Blythe. She was in graduate school, and the way that classes rolled into classes and semesters into semesters was feeling stale. “I thought a style challenge would be an easy way to spice things up, to practice creativity with a limited schedule.”

Near the end of 2009, she came up with the idea to wear a dress every day for a month. And since December was the next full month, she started calling the experiment Dressember. “I love puns,” she said, “so the deal was pretty much sealed at that point.”

She had no intention of turning Dressember into a campaign, or even an annual challenge. But when her friends saw her wearing dresses all month they wanted to try it, too. “It wasn’t until friends wanted to join, and then their friends wanted to join, and I saw its organic growth, that I started seeing potential for something bigger.”

Every year the Dressember community grew, even expanding internationally. Blythe soon took notice of Movember, the November mustache-growing campaign that raises money for men’s health organizations. “Maybe I can use Dressember to raise money for an anti-trafficking organization,” she thought.

Last year, Blythe aligned Dressember with International Justice Mission (IJM), a nonprofit that rescues victims of human trafficking, and set what she called “the huge, scary goal” of raising $25,000 for the organization. The 31-day Dressember campaign hit that goal on day three. “I realized I needed to start dreaming bigger,” said Blythe.

By December 31 last year, 1,200 women in 32 countries had raised over $165,000 for IJM—more than six times the original goal.

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Just as donations started to surge in last year, Blythe noticed some criticism of Dressember trickling onto Twitter. “There were some valid points made,” she said. “Someone said we ought to be careful what brands we wear, and there’d be an unfortunate irony if our dresses were produced by slave labor. I appreciated that.”

She also received some emails from transgender people who were concerned that Dressember promoted gender binaries. Blythe changed some of the campaign’s language. “I was not trying to say that only women can wear dresses,” she said.

But others were less constructive. One person took issue with participants posting selfies, calling it vain. “Instead of offering some sort of solution,” said Blythe, “they started an Instagram account to mock Dressember, with boys in dresses in suggestive poses and borderline lewd captions.They also started harassing Dressember participants, which is what made me the most upset.

Another person, a friend of one of her friends, took the time to find Blythe on Facebook and send her a message calling Dressember “stupid.”

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If Dressember as a fashion challenge was born out of boredom, Dressember as activism came from something much deeper.

“I was molested as a little girl,” said Blythe, “and for years I carried the weight of questions of worthiness, value, and guilt.” When she learned that millions of girls and women all around the world are trafficked from their homes to endure sexual abuse, she said it lit a fire inside her. “It took years for me to heal, forgive, and move forward, but hearing about women and girls who experience horrific things still fires me up.”

Blythe wanted to do something to help. “But I kept hitting a wall,” she said. “I’m not a social worker, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a cop, I’m not a psychologist.” The things she enjoyed and was good at—fashion, design, trend analysis, writing—felt like the wrong tools for pursuing what she was passionate about. While her heart strained towards human rights, her talents kept her working in Los Angeles. “My interests didn’t seem to match up with making a difference,” said Blythe.

Last year, when Blythe transformed Dressember into a fundraiser for IJM, she found a way to align her enjoyment of creative fashion with her passion to stop sex trafficking. And deeper still, she created a platform where femininity—the epicenter of some of her earliest, deepest wounds—is powerful, and supports the work of healing and wholeness for women around the world.

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When critical voices began to attack Dressember, as they do with any successful venture, Blythe said that she mostly kept it to herself. “It was a lonely experience to process the negative feedback that came in,” she said.

To fight through it she reminded herself that rescuing one person from trafficking was worth upsetting 1,000 people. And that for every Dressember critic there were probably 1,000 supporters. And she talked with her mentor about it. “I’ve learned a lot since then,” said Blythe, “and feel more prepared to face the criticism that will likely come this year.”

For one thing, she now has other people beside her. “Last year was pretty much a one-woman effort,” she said. “My main strategy is to let others in on the journey, and try not to carry the weight of it again.” Blythe is building a team to help her run the campaign. “I’ve learned how important it is to be a part of a team of people,” she said.

And secondly, she said that she’s learning to “guard the gate,” to choose what feedback she believes is valuable. “I talked with my mentor a lot about deciphering between valid and useless feedback, and learning to put the feedback I’m not sure about on hold until I can take it to people I trust.”

This year, the Dressember team set a huge goal. They hope to raise $500,000 for IJM—20 times last year’s goal. “It’s big, but I have a feeling the ripple effect growth that Dressember saw as a style challenge will carry over to the campaign,” said Blythe.

Every person who joins the campaign ratifies the basic values Blythe brought to it: that personal creativity can make a difference, and that femininity is powerful.“It’s always really encouraging to see people get excited about Dressember,” said Blythe, “to see their eyes light up with their own ideas within the campaign or beyond.”

She said she got an email a couple weeks ago from the director of a safe house for women coming out of prostitution in the States. “She emailed to let me know some of her girls heard about Dressember and are thrilled about it, and can’t wait to participate,” said Blythe.

“That’s the sort of feedback that puts the wind back in my sails.”

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To honor Blythe, we’re donating 50% of all online sales through December 18th to IJM’s fight against human trafficking. Shop here. And learn more about Dressember here.

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

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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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Hero: Amyie Kao Makes Water from Coffee

To honor Amyie, we’re donating 50% of our online sales from October 6 thru November 5 to help fund a clean water well in Rwanda. Shop here.

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Amyie Kao was getting restless. It was late one night in 2012 and her husband Daniel was under the sink, installing a filtration system in their new coffee roasting facility. He kept fiddling and adjusting and testing, inching towards optimal water to brew their coffee, for hours.

They had recently founded Mariposa Coffee Roastery together and moved the business into their first dedicated roasting space in Norman, Oklahoma, near the University of Oklahoma. Daniel started roasting coffee in college at OU, a hobby that quickly escalated to an obsession. He built his own roasters, housing one in a rented storage space a few miles away because it wasn’t allowed on campus.

As Amyie watched him tinker she thought about the importance of water in coffee—in brewing it and in growing it. In her mind, a restless and combinatorial mind, Amyie overlaid two maps. The first showed the global “coffee belt,” the region straddling the equator where coffee is grown around the world. The second was a map she had seen of the global water crisis, which showed where billions of people, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, didn’t have access to clean drinking water. The two maps highlighted many of the same areas.

Amyie and Daniel knew that quality coffee requires attention and care from farmers, who grow and carefully handpick and process coffee cherries to produce great beans. “When we roast our coffee, our goal is to honor the hard work that’s been poured into every single coffee bean,” said Amyie. This sense of responsibility to the farmers behind their coffee is a core value of their business. Hence Daniel’s hours under the sink.

When Amyie realized that many coffee farmers live in areas where clean drinking water is scarce, it was an affront to this sense of connection and responsibility to the farmers. To learn more she contacted Water4, an Oklahoma City nonprofit that drills wells in water-scarce communities around the world.

Water4 sent Amyie some photos from Rwanda, taken in a district called Nyaruguru (Nyah-roo-guh-roo). Amyie knew the region. It’s beans won the Cup of Excellence in 2011, a competition known as the Oscars of the coffee world. She had seen a one pound bag of coffee from Nyaruguru selling for $30.

The photos showed the only water source for three villages in the district. It was a pool of brown water, an unprotected spring that surely held bacteria and parasites. “People had to hike 45 minutes down a mountain to a water source that could be contaminated,” said Amyie, “and then haul heavy jerry cans full of water back up to their village.”

The people growing $30-per-pound coffee, Amyie realized, didn’t have clean water to drink.

A Dodgy Part of Town

Making this sort of connection—between her own pursuits and larger justice issues—isn’t unusual for Amyie. After working for a U.S. Senator during college she led letter-writing campaigns for social justice, having learned that handwritten letters carry much more weight than form letters. When she was president of the Pre-Med Club at OU she gave a presentation about genocide because, to her, the connection between medicine and global justice was inescapable.

Amyie was born in Oklahoma City to Chinese parents who had owned grocery stores in Vietnam. The Vietnamese had seized nearly everything they owned during the war, and they had come to America as refugees.

Amyie Kao, Ember Hero

She grew up in what she calls a “dodgy” part of town. Years later she watched a documentary about human trafficking and saw shots of her childhood street. She says she grew up playing in her backyard a lot because the front wasn’t safe. But still she remembers it brightly. “I remember spending countless hours playing under our giant pecan tree, exploring my grandmother’s garden, and romping in the dirt,” she said.

Her parents had forgone education to work in their family business in Vietnam, so when they got to the U.S. they had few professional opportunities. They took low-wage jobs and went to night school to try to improve their situation. But “they didn’t quite make it out of the low income bracket,” Amyie said.

She remembers being six years old when her grandmother had a stroke. The family rushed to the emergency room. Amyie said the “doctors were incredible impatient with the language and cultural barriers.” The hospital staff openly discussed the family’s poverty and that they wouldn’t be able to pay the bill, thinking that no one in the family could understand them. But Amyie understood. They told the family to seek treatment elsewhere.

“Most physicians try to be kind,” she said. “And then there are some that aren’t. I felt powerless to do anything about it.”

As the family’s best English speaker Amyie often played intermediary between her family and America. She said that most people at most times have been kind to her family. But some people at some times—often important times—treated them as inferior and unimportant. And young Amyie stood in the middle, relaying the messages.

Water Made from Coffee

More people die each year because they don’t have access to clean water and sanitation than from all the violence in the world, including wars. And the women and children who usually walk long distances to fetch water miss out on time working or in school and are in danger of harassment and sexual assault.

“We had this realization that, while we’re tinkering with our water system, the very people producing our coffee might not be alive to see the next harvest.” To Amyie, the connection between coffee and water became inescapable. Honing their craft of roasting coffee wouldn’t be enough to honor the farmers growing it. She and Daniel would have to do something about water.

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They discussed it and decided to set aside a portion of their profits to build wells in coffee growing communities. “We’re a small startup,” she said, “so we had to set aside a little money each month.” After nearly two years they were able to commission Water4 to build a well in Nyaruguru.

The people in those villages now spend less time collecting and hauling water, and when they do get it, it’s clean and safe to drink. This means lower risk of disease, less vulnerability to violence, and more time spent at school or in the garden. In a place where clean water was nearly impossible to come by, a well is a small miracle.

Amyie and Daniel are setting aside money for a second well now. They want to put another well in the same area, so that if and when one needs maintenance, a common challenge, the people there still have clean water to drink.

And they’re also saving up for a trip to Rwanda to visit this place where the coffee map and the water map intersect. They want to see where their treasured coffee beans come from. They want to shake the hands of the farmers who nurture them. And they want to know, directly, the importance of water in coffee.

To honor Amyie, we’re donating 50% of our online sales from October 6 thru November 5 to help fund a well in Rwanda. Shop here.

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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.