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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Envisioning the Future of NUPECA

This past weekend I took the leaders of our partner Co-op, NUPECA, on a leadership retreat to the shore of Lake Victoria.  It was an incredible couple days.  The goal was to give the leaders a space to cast a vision for NUPECA, and to take ownership of that vision and the organization.  And did they ever. 

They created a five-year vision that includes 100 members, four programs (including support for orphans and adult literacy) and a committment to innovation.  Then we went to the zoo and got to pet rhinos.  Great weekend.

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Tea and Tangles

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A guest post by jewelry designer Emily Grace Goodrich

Fortunately, it’s easy to find fresh ginger any time of the year in Southern California. This is important because it’s the ginger that sets African tea worlds apart from anything I’ve tasted before. It’s habit-forming, and the best mornings in Uganda begin with a blank page, a pen, and a shared pot of tea.

It’s been almost a week since I reluctantly rode a taxi through Kampala for the last time, toward the airport. And these are my attempts to stay behind in the smallest ways: reliving the smells, the flavors, the memories. Especially reliving the tea.

I’ve traveled many times before, often under the well-meaning premise of helping. To the slums of Mexico and jungles of Peru, to remote villages throughout Malawi, to the junkyard hideaways of the Roma in the heart of the Balkans. But this trip wasn’t about assistance, it was about collaboration. And collaboration is binding: I’m unsure of when and why, but I know it will one day draw me back to the red-earth hillsides, the sun and rain soaked landscape of Kampala.

There is something more vivid about the beadmakers in Acholi Quarters, a confidence and dignity that I didn’t often see in the women I met in Uganda, or even elsewhere in the world. They dress well, and their children are full and happy and in good schools. They laugh with ease and confidently make suggestions, they learn quickly and then become teachers themselves. Yet they are excellent students, they value knowledge and quickly absorb even the smallest drop that a trail of new ideas leaves behind.

In just a few short weeks this team of women has taken in a flood of new ideas: about things like color theory, fabric, ribbon, wire, and recycled plastic. And as much as they work together as a team, each contributes to the group in her own way. Esther is kind and patient, but has a definite competitive streak and walks a little taller when her work is deemed “just perfect.” Agnes and Gladys are among the youngest, but have the sharpest eyes for color and design. Ellen can make better fabric flowers than I can- on her first try. And Nighty consistently stands among the best and fastest learners while simultaneously wrangling a squirming toddler.

The brevity of my trip leaves me feeling as though I’ve rushed in, dumped a tangle of information in a big heap and then fled; but I am confident that the women of Acholi Beads will turn fragments into works of wearable art. When they ship the new designs to America later this spring, you will see just what I mean.

I’m wearing the same strand of paper beads around my neck that I wore in January, but I see them differently now. They are full of faces and names and stories. Though you may not know the details, yours are too.

Movin’ on up

I got some great news when I visited our Ugandan partners this morning.  The co-operative that we helped them found, called NUPECA, just rented their first office space!  They got a two room office on the main road through Acholi Quarters where they’ll be able to handle all of their projects.  And as with most things Ugandan, it’s colorful!

Below, Christine and Otto, two of the co-op’s top leaders, stand by their new office.

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