"I was really interested in the idea of women as miners bringing positive development to their communities, and then I met Auntie Shamsa." -Marc Choyt
Marc, co-owner here at Reflective Jewelry, met Shamsa Dawani back in 2007 at a World Bank Meeting in Washington D.C.
The meeting was sponsored by The World Bank to bring together different sectors of the jewelry industry in order to build an ethical sourcing movement for jewelry in North America.
"After we talked for a while and I learned about what Shamsa was doing for women in the gem industry, I wanted to featured her in an article I was writing for a jewelry trade magazine, which published that year. Then again some years later we met in Boston on business and we've stayed in contact ever since," says Marc Choyt.
They spoke again recently and I had the opportunity pipe in and ask her a few questions.
*RJ refers to us, Reflective Jewelry, while the AS refers to Auntie Shamsa
RJ: What have you learned through your journey of advancing in this field that you'd like to share as encouragement or words of wisdom to others?
AS: Through my journey of advancing in this gemstone business, I have learned that Mineral Value Addition is a field with huge opportunities for women and youths if they get skills; technology and machineries with working tools. Government and development partners should see this potential and find ways to support their efforts. I believe that empowering women will improve the overall living standards of families and the conditions in their communities.
RJ: What ignited your journey into this particular field?
AS: Before I started in the gemstone business, I worked with an airline in Tanzania as an Office Manager, and had an opportunity of traveling to different countries in the world where I came to see the beauty of gemstones and jewelries; the interest that built my passion for gemstones.
Also, I believed it was an industry that I thought would make me comfortable economically.
RJ: Do you think your entry into the field, at the time that you did, as a woman, encouraged positive change personally, socially, globally? If so, how?
AS: Women miners have realized that the mining business is a good source of income if done the right way. With advancement in technology and increasing mechanization, women see mining as a new option of making money, a choice that was previously available to men alone.
It has not been common for women to be miners in Tanzania, but there has been an increase of women miners over the years. Yet, still not as many as male miners. Women face a lot of challenges in performance of their work.
Mining operations takes place under harsh environments, which makes it hard for women to participate. E.g. Going underground often poses a risk of bareness, socially it is difficult too as they have to leave behind their families (i.e. husbands and children) for a long time, which at times may result in a broken home, uncared for children and many other consequences.
In some areas, women are restricted from entering the mines due to a cultural behavior. There are also challenges to access credit and finance for mining activities and lack of marketing information.
RJ: What's your favorite color? Plant? Animal?
AS: My favorite color is purple, favorite plant is [the] rose plant, and my favorite animal is [the] zebra.
RJ: Tell us a little bit about your new organization.
AS: Our new Organization is a non-profit organization called Fahari Stones. It deals with adding value to the minerals from Tanzania. The purpose of this organization is to support small-scale miners to have good quality and attractive finished products. We are planning to train women and youth to do excellent cutting and polish[ing], fine jewelry making and other handicraft in gemstones. Now we are training to make gemstone trees and gemstone beads. Also, we organize trainings for safety in mining and environmental degradation at mining areas. We are in the process of provid[ing] basic training for mineral identification at the mining areas to small-scale miners.
We work with TAWOMA (Tanzania Women Miners Association), FEMATA (Federation of Minerals Association Tanzania), and other small-scale miners in value chain, marketing of their products, building a database and information dissemination.
I managed to get the Primary Mining Licenses for Gold and Gemstones but could not succeed due to a working capital. Then I decided to go on mineral value addition and motivated other women to form an organization, and we agreed together, with a small group, to register an organization.
"I believe this will change their lives
and be able to take care for their families."