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.

 

Dreamer: Megan Krempels, A Creative Director’s Global Sabbatical

Connect with Megan and read more about her adventures on her blog.Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerIt’s a long way from South Korea to small-town colonial Pennsylvania, a trip Megan Krempels made at the tender age of two, when she was adopted from her native Korea by an American couple. Last month, after 28 years, she took the scenic route back. Megan put her successful career as a creative director on hold and sold most of what she owned for a four-month, around-the-world exploration of new cultures, her own identity, and the tensions between successful American life and the deeper values she has cultivated in herself.

Megan grew up in a small town near Pennsylvania Amish country—”the only Asian in a sea of white people,” she told me by email. Then for college she moved to Los Angeles, where she felt like a “small-town girl in a sea of city kids” and an “Asian who looks Asian but doesn’t act Asian.”

“You just feel out of place, everywhere,” Megan said.

She stayed in Los Angeles after school and built a career in design, eventually helping launch Little Black Bag, a fashion e-commerce site, as the company’s Creative Director. From there she got offers from a number of top companies and had startup ideas of her own. But something didn’t feel right this time.

“Here I was at the top of my career, being requested at incredible jobs most people would kill for and I felt completely jaded and empty,” Megan recalled. “Why do I keep hustling for this? To buy more? To move to a better place? I started getting healthy as a human but as a corporate cog I felt burnt out.”

She decided to leave Los Angeles, and started kindling an old dream of traveling the world, a dream she had postponed due to financial worries. “Fear of not having money kept me in the spin cycle,” she said. But now she thought about it differentlyShe had some savings, a retirement account she could cash out, a tax refund on its way, and plenty of stuff she could sell. She decided to go for it.

Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerShe listed most of her stuff for sale on Craigslist and in a few days was driving across the country with her dog, going back home to spend time with family and old friends, and to plan her adventure.

First she booked a flight to Peru, a country she’d itched to return to ever since a trip there in high school. When she learned she needed proof of a return flight to be allowed in the country, Megan happened upon a strange itinerary: Rio De Janeiro to London to Seoul, back to London and finally back to Philadelphia. And it was cheaper than direct flights home from Rio. She booked it, realizing as she did that it would be her first time to Korea since her adoption in 1984. This trip would truly take her full circle.

Megan’s goal in traveling, as close as I can get it, is simple enough to write. We all know the stuffiness that creeps into our lives, the accumulation of questionable habits, unquestioned assumptions, postponed and missed opportunities. These things hang around because they fit into our current lifestyle and relationships. Even seeing them clearly is tough. Changing them is near-miraculous.

Traveling internationally, not touristing but really traveling and experiencing cultures that are different from our own, is a wide open door that we walk through, out of our own stuffiness. From such a distance—the actual geographical distance giving rise to an emotional one—we can see our little worlds as the strange and arbitrary places they are and we can choose to live differently.

Part of the stuffiness Megan was trying to air out in her travels is the uniquely Western—and perhaps even more uniquely American—elevation of economic achievement as the primary value of a person. “Accomplishments, accolades, job titles, earning money and stuff: my personal self-worth was, um, 100% this for the majority of life,” she wrote on her website. And by unraveling this flag of identity and exploring other value systems, she seeks to get closer to her own core values, and ultimate value, as a human being. “The fullest versions of myself. Who is that?” Megan asks. “I honestly dunno. I’m learning it little by little but honoring each second.”

Finally, after four months in South America and a quick stop in London, she touched down in Seoul, South Korea and walked out into the country of her birth for the first time. “Physically, at first glance, yes I fit in,” she told me. “The clothes magically fit, the shoes slide on my short, wide feet perfectly, and they know how to cut my hair.” But when she asked locals if they could spot her as a foreigner, “there was a resounding response of, Yes, duh, absolutely.”

Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerMegan’s American upbringing and fast-lane career success set her apart from the average young Korean woman. “The country still values traditional gender roles in their most stereotypical sense,” she said. “Girls have found this interesting space of emulating the little girly-girl where they primp in public in front of huge floral-motif mirrors and take selfies in coffee shops. Meanwhile they run the show at home with their husbands and sons.” Megan was not as fashion-conscious as her Korean counterparts, and not as conservative, and acted a little more confident.

At first she was turned off by the formality of Korean culture. “Korea is a land of discipline and conformity,” she wrote, recalling a trip to a Korean salsa club. “You could only dance with a partner or you were forced into a corner to practice the steps in a group in front of a mirror. You weren’t allowed to just dance freely.” But soon she started noticing positive things: people’s considerateness of others in public spaces, thoughtful design incorporated into everyday life. And when she got out of Seoul a whole new appreciation blossomed. “Once I got out of the hustle of the city, people invited me into their lives and homes like family. I’ve never felt that way before. That feeling of being fully accepted and part of a culture immediately without trying.”

Now back home in Pennsylvania and planning her next venture, Megan says the trip helped her to appreciate her unique identity as a small-town-Korean-American-woman-startup-leader. “It’s become kinda fun to surprise people and remind them not to judge a book by its cover,” she told me, “to show them that someone young can have wisdom, a playful person can have depth, an artist can have a science brain, and being Asian isn’t easily defined.”

Through her travels Megan realized that she’s not alone in her mixed identity. “I’m not part of one single entity. But I don’t actually think any of us are now, so I feel a little less alone in that.” Our increasingly connected world gives us the opportunity to identify ourselves not only by our origin, but also by our destination, and perhaps most importantly by the journey we take to get there.

Connect with Megan and read more about her adventures on her blog.Megan Krempels, Ember Dreamer

 

Dreamer: Musician Karina Frost

By day Karina Frost manages our shipping department. By night she rocks San Diego’s soul.Karina Frost, Musician and Ember Dreamer

“My brother and I shoved toilet paper in our ears many nights to drown out the song my mom and dad just had to listen and dance to at full volume,” musician Karina Frost told me by email, a smile in her writing. “My parents’ love language is definitely music and dance.” It’s easy to imagine how contagious such a love would be to a child watching her parents enjoy themselves, their lives, each other.

As a young child Karina’s own particular love was books, or one book in particular: a children’s chapter book called Old Granny Fox. Raised in a Mexican household in Chula Vista, California, she spoke and read only Spanish. But so entranced was she by “aged, yellowed pages and the glorious musty smell” that she held the book close and imagined 100 different adventures for the old fox. Years later she joined an English speaking elementary school and found in books both a refuge from and a tool to tackle the challenge of learning a new language and a new culture. Books became, she told me, “as much a part of me as my blood and muscle.”

Both of Karina’s parents are from Ensenada, a small coastal city on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, about an hour’s drive from San Diego. Her parents drove her and her brother to Ensenada nearly every weekend, where they were surrounded by family.

One of the great privileges of being family to a younger generation is introducing them to the small wonders of the world, and sometimes watching them fall in love with one of them. Visiting her grandfather in Ensenada when she was only 12, Karina asked him to teach her how to play a song on his classical guitar. He taught her to play La Bamba. She took that guitar home for a week and wrote her first song.

fox n janeThe lyrics, she said, were embarrassing. But the collision of her love of music and her love of words was transformative. The next Christmas, Santa brought her a guitar of her own, and in writing and performing songs she found an opening through which her deepest thoughts and feelings could flow, and a place to connect on that level with others. “I have to admit,” Karina said, “the true reason I perform my music and not just write songs while alone in my little room is that I feel the most connected with mankind while exposing myself in the intimate way a performer does.”

It seems to me that her ability to dig down into herself, into the places where we all feel alike but alone, and to bring back something to share is foundational to Karina’s life. This, after all, is what she must love in the books she so treasures. This is what was unleashed in her when she wrote that first song. And this innate understanding of the value of her own thoughts and feelings and stories is probably why, though she still owns the book, she has never read the actual pages of Old Granny Fox. She doesn’t need to. All the fox’s stories are within her.

Follow Karina’s music on Facebook!

Dreamers: Shiloh and Jovanna, Ember Models and Much More

Shiloh and Jovanna, Ember Arts DreamersOur new online store features two beautiful women modeling our jewelry. Choosing models is tough. The standard way is to hire the most impossibly skinny blond you can find, dress her in something expensive and trendy, and put some jewelry on her. But that’s just not us.

The whole idea of models troubles me—that there is a standard of beauty women should aspire to, and that we have to abide by that standard in presenting our products. Especially when the standard is set by women whose dress size is literally zero. And more especially when these women are usually photographed in fabricated fantasy worlds, passively enjoying their impossible lives. These images, which saturate our lives, paint aspirational pictures for women that are as unhealthy as they are unattainable.

Here at Ember Arts we think the dreams women hold in their hearts and enact with their minds and hands are far more important than their dress sizes. We think that beauty is found at the intersection of a healthy body, an active mind, and a positive, confident sense of self. Models in this sense are far more than just pretty girls. They are women we can admire.

Our search for models turned up two remarkable and beautiful women: Shiloh and Jovanna. Both are friends of the Ember family, and each brought her own story and style to the shoot.

Jovanna Williams

Jovanna wearing the Ember Arts Gravity necklaceWhile we were shooting, Jovanna told me that she dreams of hiking the Appalachian trail. She has a strong sense of adventure and wants, in fact, to travel the world, starting with America.

For now she is busy working and studying early childhood development, her professional passion. “Those early years are such an important time,” she told me later by email. Jovanna loves working with children, and currently interns at a progressive elementary school in San Diego.

I asked her one of my favorite questions: If the world could be different in one way because you lived, what would it be? She said she hopes to inspire people to be more kind. “I feel sometimes that the world can be unnecessarily harsh,” said Jovanna, “and if everyone was just a little kinder to others, to animals, to our environment, or even to themselves because of me, well then, wow, that would be amazing.”

As a student, Jovanna is focused on the future—not only her own, but the future of education and all the children it touches. Thinking about Jovanna’s future, it’s wonderfully hopeful to imagine all the little girls and boys that she will inspire with her sense of adventure, and imbue with her value of kindness.

Shiloh Schneider

Shiloh wearing the Ember Arts Jinja banglesShiloh has a tattoo on her arm that means ‘gypsy’ in Romanian. To understand what this means to her you need to know two things: first, gypsies are despised in Romania, and in the greater part of Europe; and second, Shiloh spent a good amount of time living with gypsies in Romania.

“My tattoo is a reminder of the family I made in Romania,” she told me by email, “and the sacrifice and love they had for me right from the start.” She said that American friends of hers who are ethnically Romanian have questioned her about the tattoo. Doesn’t she know that ‘gypsy’ has a terrible connotation? they ask. “I am able to talk about what my gypsy family was like and how they lived to serve and my experience in getting to know the deeper part of a people group on a personal level.”

The story of her tattoo illustrates two of Shiloh’s guiding passions. One is for travel. “I dream of living in Paris with two dalmatians, a bike, and a good typewriter.” said Shiloh. “I also dream of doing research on a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean like Jacques Cousteau, and yes I would have to don the red beanie and turtleneck look.”

The other is her desire to peer behind the veils of culture and stereotype, and to engage people as unique individuals, each as human as every other. Asked what sort of difference she’d like to make in the world, Shiloh replied, “That everyone knows their importance and the effect they can have on others and how special and truly unique everyone has been made!”

Giveaway

We’re celebrating Shiloh and Jovanna by giving away one of our favorite pieces: An aqua Gravity Necklace, like the one Jovanna is wearing above. To enter the giveaway, just comment on this post!

Obligatory Jumping Photoember_1

 

Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life Magazine

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineOn a clattering bus dodging potholes in the Kenyan countryside, Fay Johnson realized that she hadn’t had enough time for dancing lately. It was 2012 and Fay had just finished a consulting project for Nuru International—an organization that aims to end extreme poverty—helping them increase the use of latrines in rural Kenya. She worked eye-to-eye with Kenyan community health workers. She watched them assimilate new skills and improve their communities. It was change she could literally touch.

Making this sort of change has many rewards, but Fay found that time for the simple things that bring her joy—dancing, painting, storytelling, photography—is not often among them.

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineA South African raised mostly in California, Fay’s parents made a point of introducing her to the wider world. “It was not uncommon,” she told me by email, “to spend Thanksgiving dinner with guests including Communist People’s Party officials, Indian professors, French scholars, Nigerian princesses and the children of political refugees.” She visited 26 countries before graduating high school. This global foundation, said Fay, “solidified my deep, personal commitment to the betterment of all human life, regardless of national identity.”

After college she moved to Washington, DC and worked with Human Rights Watch, the US Congress, and Oxfam America, all before getting a Master’s degree focused on behavior change communication. She founded a consultancy called Red Balloon Ideas to put all her education and experience into practice. Which brought her to this bus ride, traversing the vast Kenyan countryside, thinking about dancing.

There are things we believe in, things we know to be good and worthy of our time, like improving health conditions in Kenya. And then there are things we love. For some its music, for others teaching; for some it might even be organizing files. We can’t say why we love these things, or make a good argument as to how they are better than other pursuits. We just know that they open springs of joy within us. Before her bus dropped her in Nairobi, Fay decided to move the things she loved closer to the center of her life.

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineThrough a good amount of research she decided to create a digital magazine to engage the world in the kinds of stories and ideas that molded her. She named it Deliberate Life. The goal, in the pattern of her upbringing, is to create a global community of people building a better tomorrow, with Deliberate Life as a venue to read about and share their common challenges, solutions, and stories. “I have set out to create something that I wish existed,” said Fay, “a manual, as it were, for what I should be doing if I want to make a difference.”

But nothing ambitious comes easy. Founding the magazine solo she has to constantly keep herself motivated and learn new skills like becoming a registered Apple iOS developer. And then there’s the emotional risk. “Whenever you put your heart into something, and it is out there with your name on it, it’s nerve wracking,” said Fay. So far the iPad-only magazine has been downloaded in 52 different countries. A community is growing. It’s small still, but with issue number three launching today for the iPad, you can bet that somewhere near San Francisco, Fay is dancing.

Support Fay: download the Deliberate Life iPad app and like Deliberate Life on Facebook.

Dreamer: Jessica Connolly, Co-Founder of Ember Arts

Jessica with Gladies in Acholi Quarters, UgandaThe first seeds of Ember Arts were planted back in 2007, when my sister Jessica Connolly was pregnant with her first child. The birth of her daughter, my niece, transformed our family. It was my parents’ first grandchild. Jessica stepped away from marine biology to focus on motherhood. And both she and my mom started selling Ugandan jewelry, little by little, at farmer’s markets and craft shows.

Of course it was most transforming for Jessica herself. Not only was she suddenly a mother, a world entire for this new little person, but the process of being pregnant and giving birth gave her a burning new interest.

“I dove in and learned all I could about the maternity system and the choices women have,” Jessica told me. The birth of her daughter was attended by a midwife, a woman trained to understand giving birth not just as a medical event, but as a normal and healthy part of a woman’s life. That experience, Jessica said, “was the beginning of a passion that has turned into a calling to educate, empower and attend women during this transformative life event.”

Jessica Connolly, Co-Founder of Ember Arts

Jessica set her sights on becoming a midwife. She sees it as not just a personal calling, but a global one. “Training skilled midwives to attend women in places of conflict and poverty, where women don’t have a voice or access to care, is one of the most powerful social development tools we have today,” said Jessica.

Now with two daughters and another on the way, freeing up the time and resources for the necessary schooling is a challenge. Jessica started by becoming a doula here in San Diego, and offers physical, emotional, and informational support to women throughout their pregnancies and births. “The challenge is balancing a calling with the current season of life,” she told me. “My priority now is to invest the better part of my time in my kids while they are young and maintain my role at Ember while stewarding my dream.”

It’s strange to think that my nieces never knew a time before Ember Arts. And that so many of the dreams of my family trace their way back to that same year that Jessica’s oldest was born. It probably doesn’t surprise Jessica, though. “Birth is one of the few raw, wild moments in life,” she told me, “when, in a day, we are transformed and empowered and changed.”

Nominate Our Next Ember Hero

Nominate an Ember HeroTwice every year we choose a new Ember Hero, a young woman chasing a beautiful dream to make the world a better place. We share her story with the world and donate 50% of our online sales to her dream for one month. Past Heroes are empowering sex trafficking survivors, creating jobs in the developing world, and working to end conflict in central Africa. Learn more about each of them on our Ember Heroes page.

Now we want your help to find our next Ember Hero. Use the form below to nominate a woman you think should have her dream featured and supported by the Ember community. We’ll narrow down the nominations and then open it to our community to vote for the winner.

Update, May 3, 2013: Nominations are closed. Voting begins soon!

Dreamer: Rebecca Snavely, Co-Founder
of Action Kivu

Follow Rebecca’s work with Action Kivu on Facebook.
Rebecca Snavely, Ember Dreamer, in Mumosho, Democratic Republic of Congo
On the television show Project Runway, aspiring fashion designers sew for a chance at sudden fame and success. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a small group of women sew in hopes of feeding and educating their children. These two realities, still so distant on our small planet, are connected by one woman: Rebecca Snavely.

Rebecca grew up a bookworm and followed her fascination with story into entertainment and journalism, and to countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. Her most recent job is casting for Project Runway, where she explores the fashion blogging world in search of the next potential star. “My favorite part of the job is interviewing people to find out the quirks of their personal stories,” Rebecca told me by email.

A few years ago she and her friend Cate Haight, a film editor in Los Angeles, read Half the Sky, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s treatise on global injustice against women. When they reached the section about Congo, about rape being used as a weapon of war and the courage of women in the face of such violence, they decided together to do something. Through a friend, they connected with Amani Matabaro, a Congolese man who founded his own non-profit to serve women and children in eastern Congo. “I have never met anyone like Amani,” Rebecca told me. “Cate and I are inspired by his never-ending dedication to making a difference in his community, his persistence, his joy, his intelligence, his empathy and love for those he works and lives with.”

She and Cate founded Action Kivu to help Amani fund his work, and to support positive change in Congo through the “powerful, purposeful people of its local communities.” The work they support tackles practical challenges like education, income generation, and stopping domestic violence. And it’s all driven by the needs of the Congolese communities where it’s accomplished. In a land where women are often scorned and abused, Ernata, a woman who learned tailoring in Amani’s program, sums up the benefits: “I am very proud of myself today, and my husband is proud of me and he’s happy to have me as a wife, especially as I help make an income for the family.”

Rebecca Snavely with Amani Matabaro.Rebecca, Cate, and Amani plan to start a fair trade program to sell the products created in Congo in the American market, and to create a ‘Peace School’ to provide education for the vulnerable children of Amani’s home community, many of whom are orphaned by war and disease. Rebecca dreams of working full time on Action Kivu, connecting with funders and other partners to magnify their impact. The work of Action Kivu, she told me, “is what makes my heart break with anguish and joy, what wakes me up, what makes me come alive.”

In the meantime, she will keep splitting her life across two worlds. “It’s an odd and beautiful balance of realities: women who are trying to sew their way into the world of fashion, and women who trying to sew their way out of poverty and into empowerment.” She is helping bring those stories a little closer together, and as she put it so well, “as we all grow closer and share our stories, helping each other find our talents and our voices, as we create places of peace, peace that is crucial for hope to take hold, we can learn from watching each other begin live life to the fullest, without fear.” A worthy dream indeed.

Rebecca told me you can support her and her dreams by connecting with Action Kivu on Facebook and Twitter, and by sharing the stories of the women, men and children of eastern Congo. You are, of course, encouraged to donate on their site. And introductions to foundations that might invest in their work would be a tremendous help.

Dreamer: Poet Ciona Rouse, Founder of Do The Crazy Thing

Visit our Facebook page and enter to win a Do The Crazy Thing poster!
Poet Ciona Rouse, Founder of Do The Crazy Thing
At a writer’s workshop in Nashville, poet Ciona Rouse was prompted to write a postcard to herself from someone she had lost. She thought of her late friend and mentor, Teri. And when she saw a postcard with a picture of a busker balancing a sword on his chin, she knew it was the one. She flipped the card over and began to write, ‘Do the crazy thing…’

“This is exactly the way she lived and what she would say to me,” Ciona told me by email, “take risks, do the thing on your heart!” The resultant poem, Do The Crazy Thing, spoke to Ciona like an old friend at a time when she needed one. “I also remember it feeling so different from anything I usually write,” she said, “which made it feel even more like a special message from Teri just to me.”

Do The Crazy Thing Poster

The digital storyteller for lululemon athletica, the women’s athletic company where Ciona works, designed a poster to illustrate the poem and posted it on the company’s blog. The poster was pinned, tumbled and tweeted across the interwebs, and people started sharing stories of their ‘crazy things’ with Ciona, and telling her how her poem inspired them.

Now, two years later, Ciona just launched thecrazything.com, a place to inspire people to find and do the crazy things on their hearts. “I see that the world will be made more wonderful by people discovering their passions and living fully into their wild and crazy dreams,” said Ciona.

Ciona told me over Skype that Do The Crazy Thing feels like it belongs as much to her mentor as to herself. When Teri passed away, even people who had never met her sent cards, because everyone in the community knew someone she had touched. Ciona hopes that through thecrazything.com, people she has never met will be touched by the same simple, profound words that Teri inspired in her: “Do the crazy thing.”

Ember Dreamers are members of the Ember community who are chasing inspiring dreams. Know someone we should feature? Write us at dream@emberarts.com.

Back to School, Uganda Style

Back to school, Uganda style
Photo courtesy of Emily Goodrich

School in Uganda isn’t like school in America. The kids actually want to go. It’s a privilege.

And it’s expensive. Many Ugandan families can’t afford to send their children to school, or might be able to educate only one of their children, especially at the high school and college levels.

This month Ugandan schools will reopen for a new term, and the 28 women we partner with there will see over 100 children off to their first day of classes. Many are entering new grades. Some are starting school for the first time. All of them are on an educational path that opens into a world of opportunity.

Our partners have long dreamed of educating their children. We are proud to run alongside them as they make this dream come true.

Down from the door where it began.