“The most important thing about being an American citizen is freedom. In America, no one controls you. There are big opportunities. You can do anything you want.” – Pavel Fomin, Ballet Dancer
At Prosperity Candle, we’ve joined with you, women artisans from around the world, and many wonderful organizations to create positive change and sustainable impact both locally and globally. We believe in the power of ripple effects from small individual actions. That’s why we take such great interest in women artisans and their stories.
The women who make each candle by hand in our studio are incredibly strong and resilient, bringing a special light to our lives. They highlight the importance of creating opportunities for people to build better lives, and the ripple effect it has throughout their communities. Every candle purchased supports a living wage for a woman recently resettled in the U.S. from a refugee camp.
We admire these women greatly. Over the past 6 years they have inspired us in countless ways, and we’ve learned a lot from them. Every day it is an honor to work side-by-side, sharing more than just a work space. We have a common purpose, and enjoy celebrating important events in our lives.
Today we are especially inspired. Nearly 8 years after the U.S. Government offered one of our first candle-makers the opportunity to escape a refugee camp and start life anew in Massachusetts, Moo Kho is officially an American citizen. She has worked hard, paid taxes, read the constitution, and taken an exam we ourselves would struggle to pass. At 12:30 pm we stood witness to what the presiding judge described as “a shining example of our country’s values and what it means to welcome outsiders, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background.”
Attending the Naturalization Oath Ceremony in Lowell, Massachusetts with Moo Kho standing among 767 other soon-to-be American citizens from 99 different counties was one of the most beautiful and emotional moments in the history of Prosperity Candle.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the ceremony was a call-to-action. In return for the freedom and opportunity granted, the official asked everyone to help shape the future of our country by registering to vote. “Let your voice be heard.” She herself was an immigrant, proud to be welcoming another generation of new Americans who would contribute to the good of the country, enriching the melting pot that has served as a beacon of light to the world.
Then two young girls, ages 4 and 10, led the entire gathering – some 1,500 of us – in the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem. To say it was an emotional experience is an understatement.
You may know Moo Kho’s story by now, but it’s worth telling again. In 2008, she had been living in a refugee camp for over 4 years with her husband and daughter outside of Burma. She and her family had left behind everything they owned and loved when her village was burned to the ground by an ethnic cleansing campaign. In the refugee camp, she was not allowed to advance her education or work, and conditions were very poor. The future was bleak and it was difficult to imagine how anything would change.
Then through a UN program, Moo Kho had the opportunity to relocate to the United States and start over. She and her husband and daughter arrived in Massachusetts in 2009 and received federal, state and local support to begin building a new life. But the support was temporary and the few jobs available were low-paying… often below minimum wage after transportation deductions.
In 2010 through a fortunate introduction, she joined Prosperity Candle as an apprentice candle-maker, starting well above minimum wage plus flexible hours, transportation provided by us, and lots of support. At the end of her first week, Moo Kho received her first paycheck ever in her life – at age 33.
Within a year Moo Kho proved herself so capable that she took over all candle-making, managing orders and training other women refugees. By 2014 she had a stake in Prosperity Candle. In the scope of just 5 years, Moo Kho’s life had gone from bleakness in a refugee camp to endless possibilities for herself and her children. It was her journey, in fact, that inspired the design of the Brilliance Candle, hand-blown glass in the shape of nature’s symbol of new beginnings: an egg.
Resettling anywhere after great loss and years living in refugee camps is extremely hard, to say the least. Understanding that refugees have particular needs in terms of wages, training, flexibility, childcare and transportation is fundamental to their success. That is why at Prosperity Candle we help ensure our women artisans are able to pursue educational opportunities that are vital to their new lives in America. We strive to provide a work environment that is safe and supportive, where everyone is welcome, including babies and children. “Everything here has meaning to me” says Moo Kho, “and I love that. The wax, the light and the people.”
Today was a special day for us all, most certainly for Moo Kho and her family. Becoming an American opens new doors, including enabling her to return to Burma (now Myanmar) for the first time in more than 12 years to reconnect with family. And then return to the country that welcomed her as a refugee, and now values her as a citizen.
“Do you feel different?” we asked? “Yes,” said Moo Kho. “I feel empowered.”
If you’d like to send Moo Kho a message of congratulations, visit her page on our site. You can also request that she pour your candle on your next purchase by entering the code MOOKHO at checkout, which will also take $2 off your order.
Here’s to celebrating not only today, but 240 years of welcoming immigrants and refugees to the United States who together have created a brighter future for us all.
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In the spirit of Women’s History Month, our thoughts are drawn to the many women who contribute to society in a myriad of ways while expecting nothing in return. They are hidden from view. Yet these women are transforming communities and making a positive difference in the world. They are unsung heroines.
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Ah, Valentine’s Day. Every year we look forward to it, but here’s the thing. Ever since Eve Ensler started One Billion Rising as part of her V-Day movement to end violence against women and girls, we’ve felt conflicted about this holiday.