Meet Grace Mwanza, jewellery maker for Mulberry Mongoose2 years ago
My name is Grace Mwanza and I am a jewellery maker for Mulberry Mongoose. Mulberry Mongoose is a small company that hand crafts accessories in the heart of the Zambian bush and sells them all over the world.
I am unmarried with a three-year-old son, Abubaka. I really believed the father would marry me, he promised. In fact he sponsored me through school, as my parents could not afford to. He left me when I was pregnant and married someone else.
Last year my life was very different to today. I was desperate for work as a single parent with a dependent mother and four sisters to support. For our income we farmed rice fields. On a good year we make 30 bags of rice at $15 a bag. On a bad year, like last year, we farmed 5 bags only, not even enough to sell.
The situation was very bad. There was just no money to feed and support any of my family.
I was told about interviews taking place for Mulberry Mongoose and I hoped it was my chance. I got to the final 4 on the day but didn’t make it. When they told me I sat on the steps and cried; I was desperate. I was slower to learn than the other girls selected. However, they also told me they liked my work ethic and that they would keep my number.
Soon I got a call, they were really busy and needed extra help. It was my chance and my family and I were so happy.
Now I get up with purpose at 5am, sweep the house and feed my son. I leave Abubaka with my Mum before taking the staff transport 30 minutes to the workshop. The workshop is in a beautiful place, surrounded by trees and wildlife; we often we see elephant pass the window while making our jewellery.
There are many positives about working. I love being involved in creating something that someone wears; it makes me feel proud. My hope is to one day design jewellery.
I love learning and because I am so focused I have been put forward for different courses. I was picked to learn how to make our snare coils. We use wire collected during anti snare patrols. Poachers set the wire traps, which maim and slowly kill our wildlife including lion and leopard. This wildlife is important to me and to my son; tourists come to see our animals and tourism has created jobs here. We wouldn’t have an income without the wildlife. I am happy to help protect them for my son’s future.
It was always a man’s job to twist the wire coils and so I was given the work as a trial in case it was too much. But I was able to learn slowly, building strength and now I have mastered the skill.
As I did well at this I was put forward to do the woodwork course. I can now create hand carved wooden beads in different shapes. I feel very proud when I see customers admire my beads, and they seem surprised when they learn that they are hand made.
My real hope is to go back to school and repeat the 4 subjects I failed as well as improve my English. With a better education I could work in the Mulberry Mongoose shop and get more involved in jewellery design. For now I am just so happy to be able to support my son and family and to every day do something that I enjoy.