The Unquenchable Ember of the Human Spirit

Today we at Acholi Beads are launching a new vision, and we are rebranding our entire company to match it. We call it Ember Arts.

Ember is the new face of our company, the new name by which we call ourselves. It is founded on something we learned from the Ugandan women we partner with.

Every human being is born bright with a natural flame of creativity and exuberance, the flame that inspires children in their ceaseless joyful exploration of the world. But as the years pass, some fires dim. Heartbreaks, failures and injustices douse our dreams and quench our wonder.

For our Ugandan partners it was worse. Their lives were battered by civil war, they lost loved ones to violence and hunger, and they struggled through years of hard labor trying to feed their families.  After too long without the resources to pursue their goals and dreams, people stop hoping.


This is the great tragedy of poverty, that eventually even the flame of hope dies.

But that was not the end of their story. Through our partnership together they found new opportunity, and soon they began pursuing goals and dreams that had been unimaginable only months before – sending kids to university, building houses, creating new businesses.

All the flames of creativity and exuberance burst back to life.

Hope, we learned, is never gone. Even when it looks like those flames are snuffed out, there is an ember, a smoldering little seed of hope that can never be extinguished.

This is the unquenchable ember of the human spirit.  We exist to kindle it into flame.


Today is the beginning of a new vision of elegance and impact, a synthesis of market and morals that will change attitudes in America and lives in Uganda, and eventually around the world. We are developing the most marketable products ever to come out of impoverished communities so that soon those communities will overthrow poverty.

We are so very grateful to all who support us. We certainly can not do it without you.

Let’s make flames.

Alcohol and Development:

Yesterday Nick Kristof, visionary journalist with the New York Times, posted a blunt and incisive story about alcoholism in the developing world.  Read it here. The crux of the problem is that globally poor families tend to spend about 2% of their income on education, while spending 4%-8% on alcohol and tabacco.

This is a big problem.  And Uganda is far from immune; in fact it’s up there among the highest alcohol per capita countries in the world.

This challenge affects us personally.  At least one of the Ugandan women we work with has a husband who’s an alcoholic, and drinks through his family’s money even as they’re trying to pay for school and healthcare.

And to be honest, we’re not sure exactly what to do about it.  We pay our women through their individual bank accounts, so they hold the purse strings.  We take every opportunity to train the men along with the women in things like personal financial management, savings, and expense forecasting.  But he still gets his hands on the money, and would rather drink than come to a training.

There are shining examples of success, too.  Another woman we work with sat next to her smiling husband and described how they came together often to plan their finances.  They are thriving.

The truth is: not everyone is going to benefit equally.  Development is not immune to issues of character, shortsightedness, and addiction.  In fact it might be uniquely susceptible, as escaping poverty is a hard business.  Our job is to keep pouring into people and communities, keep believing in the power of hope and empowerment, and keep building opportunities for people to thrive.

And as Kristof rightly points out, keep learning how to mitigate the challenges.

Wonderful People, Amazing Places

Each transaction with Acholi Beads is part of the greater story of this business.  We just returned from a trip up the coast to meet some of the faces behind those transactions and see the newest stores to carry our jewelry.  Wonderful people, amazing places.  Enjoy the visuals.

Steven Alan, Venice


Nina at Fred Segal, Santa Monica


Slow Clothing, Melrose


Aesthetyx, Huntington Beach


Huntington Beach Surf


Sasha, Laguna Beach


“Story Market” this Weekend in Huntington Beach

James will be in Huntington Beach this weekend, sharing the Acholi Beads story as part of the inaugural Aesthetyx Story Market, an event designed to share the beautiful stories behind the artisanal and global products carried in the Aesthetyx store.  And if you mention that you’re with Acholi Beads, Aesthetyx has offered $10 off of any purchase of $50 or more during the event (remember that Mother’s Day is only a couple weeks away!)

The event is Saturday, 4pm to 8pm, and Sunday 10am to 2pm.

Aesthetyx located in the lobby of the beautiful Hyatt Regency, Huntington Beach – address and map here.  They are one of our favorite retailers, carrying a curated selection of handmade goods from around the world.  We hope to see you there!



27 Events for 27 Women, Seattle

Meet the Acholi Beads Women

My good friend Karl Drechsler spent the last two months in Uganda with me, sourcing materials, organizing retreats, and becoming great friends with the women of Acholi Beads.  He was so inspired by their work to improve their lives that he made a commitment himself.  Having returned to his native Seattle he is planning 27 events to celebrate the 27 women who make Acholi Beads jewelry.

Each event will feature a different bead maker, and all of them will support the wonderful work of Karl’s new friends in Uganda.  And if all goes according to plan, Karl will be back in Uganda this summer for grad school, and to make some more funny faces.

If you’d like to contact Karl about attending or hosting events, email him at


Telling True Stories

This is great article about telling true stories in the ‘helping people’ field.  Read this excerpt, then click through for the rest:

It really is not going to matter whether we preach a sermon on eradicating poverty. It is going to matter that through our work we increased a community’s income by 20%. It is going to matter that we perfected a revenue-generating model that allows for the maintenance of the wells that we fund-raise for.  It is going to matter that through our work, 27 women were rescued and protected from the sex trade in the last month due to the donated amount. The marriage of what we do, how we do it, and why we do it, needs to be our focus and message.

Spring Babies, and a $500 Giveaway


This has already been a very special spring in Acholi Quarters.  In the past few weeks two of the women we partner with gave birth to beautiful new babies!  (One boy, one girl.)  In celebration of this season of birth and rebirth, we’re giving away five $100 Acholi Beads gifts to lucky customers of our online store!  Make any purchase between now and April 12 and you’ll be entered to win.  Click here to shop!

I was talking to one of the mothers yesterday, Aciro Grace, and she said that before she started working with Acholi Beads having a baby was a frightening experience – she couldn’t afford hospital care for her or her baby, and had little hope for a brighter future for her children.

But this time, her fourth delivery, she got medical support and was able to afford everything the new child needed.  Not only that, but she foresees a bright future for her newborn, full of education, good health, and success.  This is why we do what we do.  Thank you for your support.