When you hear “African refugee woman living in extreme poverty,” you probably don’t picture a woman who has big dreams for herself and her family. I certainly didn’t.

But for the last four years I’ve worked closely with a small group of Ugandan women who lived that story. My company Ember Arts partners with 28 Ugandan women to create beautiful handmade jewelry. All of these women fled their homes to save themselves and their families from a civil war. And all of them survived a depth of poverty that I didn’t even know existed until I left the US.

Before partnering with Ember, the Ugandan women we partner with crushed rocks into gravel for $1 per day in this rock quarry.

I’ve learned that not only do they have big dreams, they get after them.

When I first met the women who would become our partners I saw my relationship to them as a sort of math problem. Their needs exceeded their resources. If I could help them balance that equation, all would be well.

But then we started to become friends. I heard their stories. I got to know their kids. I started to hear their hopes and dreams for the future.

Agnes wanted to finish her education, Jackie wanted to start her own salon, Esther wanted to build a house in the same village that she once fled at the ends of rebel bayonets. All of them wanted to send their kids to good schools and see them achieve the sort of success that would transform their families and communities.

This was more than just math.

Because of Alice’s work with Ember her baby girl, named Peace,
will have access to the healthcare and education she needs to thrive.

As I started to recognize the dreams of my Ugandan partners I realized how important my own dreams are to me. Pursuing my dreams is my greatest source of fulfillment and impact.

To many people this isn’t news, but to me it was a revelation. I see the world differently now. Behind every business, product and nonprofit are the dreams of its creators. Within every growing community, family or relationship is someone who made the effort to dream up a better way and make it real. History itself is the story of mankind’s biggest (though not always best) dreamers.

Every piece of Ember jewelry is handmade by a group of 28 Ugandan women.

Our dreams light the future.

With this new understanding I gathered our Ugandan partners and asked them a simple question: What are three dreams you want to accomplish in your lifetime? Some of these women had probably never been asked anything like that before, but all of them had answers.

We wrote their answers down and made them the foundation of our relationship. Among our top priorities at Ember Arts is supporting our partners in pursuing and achieving their personal dreams. Already Agnes is back in school, Jackie opened her salon, and Esther is putting the finishing touches on her new house. We believe that the dreams of Ugandans are the key to building a more peaceful, prosperous Uganda.

Then we turned to our impact in America, where our jewelry is sold in almost 400 stores across the US. America’s future depends on Americans pursuing dreams that are both big enough for our country’s role in the world, and good enough to make it a better world.

Nighty and her husband are examples to the rest of Ember’s partners, working together to achieve their dreams of educating their children and starting their own farm.

To inspire Americans to chase their best dreams we share stories of people who are already doing it. When we meet someone who is wholeheartedly pursuing a great dream, someone who inspires us and who we think will inspire others, we share her story and donate 50% of our online sales for one month to the nonprofit of her choice. She then becomes what we call an Ember Hero.

Our goal as a company is to support people in achieving their best dreams. This, it seems to us, is the brightest path to a better world.

Next week is a big week for us for two reasons. First, on February 21, we will be unveiling our Spring/Summer collection, beautiful new jewelry designed by San Diego based designer Emily Grace Goodrich and handmade by our partners in Uganda. Second, on the same day, we will be announcing our latest Ember Hero, a young woman whose dream is to launch survivors of sex trafficking into their own dream careers.

We hope you’ll be inspired. We think you will. Don’t miss it.

Connect with Ember on Facebook at http://facebook.com/emberarts

Photo Credit: Courtesy Ember Arts