That was a line that was said to me by a man named Simon, who won the past year’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, an event created by Spence Diamonds and Not For Sale to invest in refugee-started enterprises. This man had nothing but an idea, and he went with it. He worked hard, created his own business and won the Entrepreneurship Challenge — which helped his business increase production, thereby increasing profit.

When he said that line to me, “we thought we were forgotten”, it not only shattered my heart but it also made me realize … We haven’t forgot about them, we forgot how to be human enough to do something about it.

When I was chosen to go on this experience, I was scared because I have been sheltered my whole life and I have never seen THIS kind of struggle and didn’t know how it would affect me. My trip to Uganda for the 2019 Entrepreneurship Challenge was only three days after my wedding, and my son and husband would have to stay behind. This was hard, and I missed them, but I needed this. How could I truly teach my son about the world if I hadn’t seen it?

The time I spent in Uganda with the Not For Sale team and Spence Diamonds team taught me a lot. The people I met in Uganda, the children at the schools and the contestants in the challenge made such an impact on my life.

There are over 1.4 million refugees in Uganda. These people are faced with trauma, and struggle on a daily basis. Their most basic needs are almost impossible to meet due to lack of supply or funds. There were so many people walking miles with water jugs just for water.

The contestants at the Entrepreneurship Challenge all had such amazing stories of how they changed their lives, how they worked hard to better the lives of their family, and how they learned a skill to better themselves. They had such incredible and heart-breaking stories of their pasts, things that have happened to them that I could never imagine. They saw an idea, or they learned a skill which allowed them to start a business. They tried so hard to make anything work to make money — and they had success. These stories are real-life, real heartache stories, that make you realize how strong people truly are. The faces on the winners of this year’s challenge will forever be imbedded in my heart. They hugged us and shared their joy, and this was a beautiful moment. This was the face of Hope and Opportunity.

When we met the children at the schools that Not For Sale and Spence Diamonds support, and the children sang to us, I cried — each time. These children were welcoming and loving. They were so excited to show us their school and learn about us, who we are and where we came from.

The children wrote a poem about how grateful they are for the water well we built, and it broke us all into tears. Before the well, they had to walk for 3 hours just to get water to drink and wash with. Three hours … little children, and teachers. It’s upsetting. It’s heartbreaking but it’s real. When I saw their faces and how Spence Diamonds and Not for Sale is actually helping, I wanted to share this story.

Spence Diamonds is donating a portion of the revenue from every artisan-created diamond to Not For Sale to help these children. I saw this, and this is real.
I have never been more proud to represent a company and foundation that not only gives back but empowers others to succeed on their own.

The world has not forgotten about Uganda’s refugees, and I will share their story.

~ Stephanie Varone