Organizations that work with refugees have a special place in my heart. I think that it's so, so important to pay attention to our international neighbors' needs and provide opportunities for them- refugees are a vulnerable group, often being exploited and taken advantage of as they try to build a new life in the United States. One of my friends here in St Paul who works with refugees on a daily basis was just telling me about how landlords jack up the rent unfairly for families that can't understand enough English to advocate for themselves. I've seen scammers going door to door in refugee communities in Texas selling "college degrees" for a couple hundred dollars promising that these fake degrees would help people in the community to find better work.
Really, all that refugees need is steady, dignified work and perhaps a friend to show them the ropes of life in America. They are brilliant, resourceful, lightning fast learners, and survivors. Andrew and I regularly hang out with a family in our neighborhood- helping the kids (there are six!) with homework (Highschool homework is especially hard... try explaining the KKK and Rosa Parks in limited English without a background of US history!), chatting, and going on fun "field trips" to explore their new city. It's amazing to me how quickly they're acclimating and how determined they are to create a new story for their family.
Ekata Designs is a company that employs women who have recently transitioned to the United States through refugee resettlement services. The beautiful jewelry pieces showcased in their online shop are made with meta, beads, and semi precious stones. I Asked Sarah, the Manager of Ekata Designs, to answer a few questions about the organization.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you're involved with Ekata
I was born in America but I grew up in Germany and I have never lived in one place for more than 4 years (and 4 was a pretty big accomplishment). Needless to say, I grew up with both the joys and challenges of being new, making new friends, learning new languages, and discovering new places.
During college I discovered the city of Memphis and began to fall in love with this place, the community that was growing and the exciting changes that were happening here. After college, I took an internship where I worked with Refugees and out of that grew what is now Ekata Designs. I love working alongside Refugees, sharing stories, culture, and of course a lot of food and tea. I have also loved anything creative since as far back as I can remember, so getting to combine the creative side of Jewelry making and the relational side of working with and welcoming Internationals to my city, has been a grand adventure!
I am the Manager of Ekata (but really that is a title I made up for myself, I just try to do whatever needs to be done to help this business grow for the sake of providing employment, income, and training to Refugees.)
What is the mission behind Ekata and where and how are the products produced?
The mission behind Ekata is to provide employment, income, and training to Refugees as they transition to a life in America. We produce all of our Jewelry in our Studio located inside of a Church that is only a few minutes from where both I and the women I work with, live. While we make all of our items at this location, the ladies I work with also have an opportunity to practice many skills other than just the making of jewelry, such as sales, photography, and marketing. As a result we get to go on all sorts of adventures throughout the city of Memphis…sometimes I think the phrase “never a dull moment” could be true about the majority of our days. And I like that.
Why Refugees is an excellent question, and I will be honest, four years ago I had never met a refugee and hardly even knew what it meant to be one. I should preface this by saying that I am a follower of Jesus and I try to let that be what determines every aspect of how I live. When I first moved to Memphis and began working with Refugees, my boss at the time (who is now a great friend and I actually live with him and his family) challenged me to think about how many people in the Bible were Refugees or worked cross culturally, and pointed me to many parts of Deuteronomy where God says he cares for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor. Those things really made an impression on me, especially realizing that most Refugees fit in to all of the categories mentioned in Deuteronomy. So, I work with Refugees because I want to imitate the heart God has for them, because from my past of traveling and constantly being new I can understand some of the challenges a refugee faces as they enter a completely new place, and finally because I have come to love the ladies I work with. They are no longer a population, but are individuals with families, and stories, favorite foods, dreams and ambitions, and I hope that this business will allow them to follow some of their dreams and to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
How do you develop the jewelry designs?
The Jewelry Design process has become one of my favorites parts over the past few years. A lot of thought goes in to every single piece of Jewelry. We want to create items that are high quality, beautiful, affordable, and represent the story of our business. We have a handful of wonderful friends who are a part of our Design Team. These lovely ladies fill up our pinterest boards with ideas of designs that they love and believe would be well received by our customers. Once the initial ideas are collected, myself and my Refugee coworkers gather together all of the supplies and have a field day of making all sorts of possible new Designs (the last time we did this, myself and Dil decided to make this process extra fun and brought snacks to share and a marathon of movies to watch. Once we have finished a first round of Designs, our Design Team gives us feedback and often we include our Fans on Facebook to help us choose between favorites. Usually this takes a couple of rounds and includes a few moments when we want to give up all together, but at the end of the process we always end up SO excited about our new Designs and love that it is a joint effort between so many individuals. After all our name “ekata” means unity and what better way to live out that name then to work together across all sorts of cultural, language, and religious barriers to create something beautiful
Tell us a story of how Ekata impacts people's lives
I could tell many many stories about how Ekata has impacted my life, the lives of customers who learn about Refugees for the very first time, and of course of how it impacts the lives of individuals who I have gotten to work alongside, but my favorite story to tell is by far the one of Chandra. Chandra is a mother of five who moved here about 3 years ago. Chandra and her husband were farmers in Bhutan when they had to flee with their infant son to the neighboring country of Nepal. Their young family spent 20 years in a Nepali Refugee camp and they had 4 more children. After 20 years they were able to be resettled to America to start a new life, but this life came with a number of challenges. Neither Chandra nor her husband had ever been to school, neither spoke english, neither drove a car, and neither had ever worked a job other than farming. Chandra began working with Ekata within weeks of arriving in America, and she is one of the hardest working most committed individuals I have ever worked with! One day I asked her what her favorite day in life had been. I never would have imagined Chandra’s answer, but she said it was the day she first began working with Ekata because it meant she could help provide for her family! Chandra worked with us for a little over 2 years during which the only other member of her family who was able to work was her oldest son. At the end of her time with Ekata her husband was able to get a full time job giving Chandra freedom to spend more time with the younger kids. I count it a huge privilege to have worked alongside Chandra and been allowed to provider her with an opportunity to provide for her family. This story has also impacted my life, and her family is the nepali family that I am closest to. I still love going over to her house for chai, and have had a lot of fun learning Nepali from them and celebrating all sorts of life milestones with this dear family.
What can conscious consumers do to help Ekata?
The best thing that conscious consumers can do to help Ekata is to learn about us, to share our story with others, and to purchase our Jewelry. We also hope that as you get to know us you will be challenged to find Refugees in your own city and become friends with them. Life in a new place can be incredibly intimidating and scary, while there are many needs, sometimes the biggest need is just a friend who can help you learn how to live life in this new place.
You could win the gorgeous cuff shown above!