Words by Sarah Ray
Photographs by Brian Kwan
Brought to you by the Colorado Collective
The cock crows. Woodsmoke hangs heavy in the already humid air. An orange hue glows on the horizon as the sun wakes to a land of greens and coppers. Young children scamper to the well, bearing their tiny jerry cans to fetch water for the morning tea. Their mothers are already hard at work digging in the fields. I breath deeply as peace fills my soul.
I’m home in the faraway land of Uganda. This place and her people have drawn me like a kite on the wind, flying high over the ocean time and time again. Even now, I miss it as I picture ebony faces with bright smiles and dancing eyes, small hands clasping mine as we wander slowly down a dirt road, taking our time. Because what do we have but time, anyway?
Africa, the dark continent. So they call it–but it has been a place of light and hope for me these past 12 years. I’ve returned time and again because its people change me. They value relationship over achievement, prize togetherness and celebrate each gift that is given with hope in the midst of hardships we Americans would avoid with all our being.
It’s not a perfect place. Stay there more than a month and the rose-colored glasses are bound to be torn off by reality. But despite poverty, injustice, greed and corruption, it’s my home.
I have another home, too. It’s here in Colorado, nestled in the aspens, with the shadow of the mountains stretching long overhead. How many trails have I walked, covered in wildflowers or hidden by deep drifts of snow? How many glacial lakes have I swum? How many red rocks have I leaned against, absorbing the afternoon sun? This, too, is home. The place where my mountain man was found, the place he hopes never to leave.
What does one do when one’s feet are set in two places? When the boundaries of home span oceans and mountains alike?
This one starts a business. A business that connects the two worlds and the people that are valued so deeply in each. A business that allows the kite to fly high around the world, with the string held firmly in the hands of that sweet mountain man, drawing me back when it’s time.
This business, Yobel Market, and its nonprofit arm, Yobel International, were founded in June 2008 and July 2012, respectively. Both branches cooperate to bring hope to the poor through sustainable business opportunities that empower and value producer groups and entrepreneurs alike. By providing entrepreneurial training and financial management courses–as well as opening global marketplaces for artisan groups–we see our friends thriving in the developing world. Not starving. They are able to send children into school, provide nutritious food for their families and vacate exploitative labor situations. It’s truly amazing to witness how a small amount of empowerment sewn into fertile soil can produce such dignity and hope.
Our entrepreneurial friends live in Africa, India, Latin America and the Middle East. Most survive on less than two dollars per day when they first begin attending Yobel’s courses. Many are women. Few of them have little more than a primary school education–and yet, these are the ones hungry for change, the ones who will take the knowledge they receive and use it to transform their lives, sustain their families and invest in their villages.
Little by little, global economies can change. These newly identified business owners are able to increase their income by at least 50 percent within six months. Ninety-seven percent begin savings plans–a first for many. Then they pass their knowledge along to an average of 15 community members, multiplying its effect. It’s amazing what they can achieve with a small investment of time and energy, along with the belief that they are made for great things.
We are all evangelists of the things we love – whether it be a new restaurant, the best gym in town, or the adorable consignment shop that opened up down the street. We promote what we experience positively. It’s in our nature. In the same way that I love to host friends overnight in my little cabin in the woods, I love to share my home across the ocean. Yobel has led more than 200 people overseas to meet our friends and experience life in another world – one that is both similar, yet so very different from our own. We have run a boutique filled with beautifully handcrafted items from dozens of people groups living in lands of humidity and smoke and brilliant color. These gifts connect people. They encourage our consumer nation to consider the flesh and blood behind the products they purchase. As a result, these gifts become more than just another “thing.”
In creating these connections, we also create awareness – awareness that we are a global community, each with our own deep connections to home, yet still needing one another. We create awareness that many of our fellow brothers’ and sisters’ lives are filled with great injustice, and that we who’ve been given much can also give much. Purchasing their products is one way to ensure that they remain free from slavery and indentured labor, and traveling to empower them with entrepreneurial training is another.
But perhaps the most important is remembering, as they ask us to do each time we depart for our other home. Remembering as we dwell in our beautiful land, enjoying the freedoms we have been given, that others, too, have these same hopes and desires. And maybe the way we choose to live in our homes will inevitably impact the way that they someday live in theirs.
Over the past eight years, I’ve travelled to my home in Africa 16 times, full of delight in every way. But when I feel the tug of the kite string, I return to Colorado, my other home – exhausted, full and always changed, no matter how many times I come and go.