Meeting Ember Arts: A business lesson from Uganda for our Junior Jeweler badge

Meeting Ember Arts: Learning about business, women's issues and how jewelry can help others rise above them

Jewelry can be pretty, but it can also have meaning and make a difference. That’s the lesson we shared with our Juniors  last fall.

The girls found meaning in their upcycled projects, which we sold at our church
to support the much-loved Haiti ministry. Our Girl Scouts were passionate about this cause, which in part supports educating girls such as them, and they were thrilled to take their big idea and see it to completion.

At the same time, I’d learned about a company called Ember Arts, which empowers Ugandan women by allowing them to have a jewelry business and a market in the United States.

The timing was beyond perfect. We shared with the girls what jewelry looked like from another culture – instead of just showing a picture from the web or in a book. We shared the stories (some sanitized) of the women who were escaping poverty and war and simply wanted a better life for their families. The girls could not wrap their heads around the idea that hard labor could earn a person $1 a day – or that they themselves, had they been born in Uganda, might be sharing the same fate of hard labor instead of schooling.

Their response? “Can we help them too?”

Perhaps in time we can. But for now, we are sticking to learning their lessons and sharing our knowledge with others.

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The following week, we began our “business side” of the fundraiser and learned how to make paper beads similar to what the girls admired at our last meeting. The girls compiled questions for Ember Arts – everything from how the beads were created to how to the business was run. (After all, our girls were going to be marketing their own work and setting prices for their sale.)

I was touched that we got a personal letter back that we shared with the girls:

Dear Girl Scouts,

Isn’t it fun getting all dressed up and looking pretty? Don’t all young ladies love following fashion trends and wearing all of the latest styles?

Well, I know I do. But did you know that some girls, all around the world, don’t have closets full of the prettiest clothes, and jewelry boxes brimming with accessories? Some girls have barely any clothes at all, and their families struggle to make enough money to pay for things like food, homes, and education.

At Ember Arts, we don’t think it’s ok that only some of us to get to go to school, and wear pretty clothes, and have nice homes, but that other people don’t get to have those things. That’s why we are working hard at creating jobs for women in Uganda, Africa that will enable them to build brighter futures for themselves and their families.

Junior Girl Scouts Jeweler badge and Global Action Award: Meeting women who create jewelry in Uganda to lift themselves out of poverty.

How are we helping these women in Uganda? Well, Ember Arts gives women jobs crafting beautiful handmade jewelry. We buy the jewelry from the women at a very fair price and then we sell the jewelry to lots of people in the United States.

This business began seven years ago when a man named James took a trip to Uganda and met women who worked in a place called a rock quarry. These women would sit in the hot sun all day long pounding big rocks with a hammer to make smaller rocks and gravel. This was very hard, tiring work, and the women were paid less than $1 a day.

James knew that these women were beautiful and talented and had amazing dreams. All they needed were better jobs that would pay them well.

Junior Jewelry badge: meeting women jewelers in Uganda.

That’s how Ember Arts started. Now, we employ 28 Ugandan women and a couple of men, and together they make hundreds of pieces of jewelry every month. With the money they make from Ember Arts, they are now able to buy clothes and food, to live in nice homes, to send their children to school, and to pursue dreams like starting their own businesses and going to college.

The jewelry these women make is really unique and special. Every piece is made by hand using recycled paper. We also use other materials like wood, seeds from trees, and glass beads the women buy from the market, but the paper beads are definitely the highlight of every piece of jewelry. The women cut pieces of paper into very skinny, long strips and then they roll up those strips into circles, ovals, or cylinders, and then they cover the paper with something like glue. As you can probably imagine, every bead takes a long time to make, but the women now have lots of practice and can make the jewelry very efficiently. About every two months, the women ship hundreds of pieces of jewelry in big boxes to the United States where they are sold.

Junior Jeweler badge and Global Action Award: Meeting Emily, a jeweler in Uganda who has helped empower women there.

Every piece of jewelry is very unique and some of them are very complex designs. The women who make the jewelry get most of their ideas for designs from a woman named Emily. Emily used to live in California and worked as an artist. She now lives in Uganda and spends all of her days helping people pursue their dreams and teaching them artistic skills.

Apart from Emily and the 28 women who make our jewelry, we have a staff of eight people here in the United States who do all of the work that it takes to actually sell the jewelry. We do everything from attaching tags to the jewelry, to updating our website, to making lots of phone calls to stores. We sell most of the jewelry wholesale, which means we work with big stores, and sell them a lot of jewelry at one time at a cheap price, and then they usually raise that price and sell the jewelry in their own store. Each piece of jewelry has a different price, and that price is determined by how the piece was made, what it was made out of, how long it took to make, and how popular it is with consumers. Basically you just have to put a lot of thought into how much you want to price your jewelry and you also have to be willing to work through trial and error to see what works best.

I think it is so admirable that you all are venturing on your own projects with making jewelry and supporting other people. How blessed your ministry in Haiti is going to be because of your efforts.

Here are a few things that you should never forget while working on your project: even small actions make really big differences in the lives of other people; be as creative, unique, and true to yourself as you can possibly be when it comes to creating your art; know that everyone has a dream, and when you do something nice for someone, raise money for them, give them a gift, or just say nice things to them, you are fueling their dreams and giving them lots of joy and hope.

I wish you the best of luck on your jewelry making project! Thank you for supporting Ember Arts!


Kimberly and the Ember Arts family

Originally posted at Going Green in Indy



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