VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
IN A country where formal employment for young people is not readily available, Charity Phiri, 27, of Ng’ombe in Lusaka, is making ends meet at the Foundation for the Realisation of Economic Empowerment (FREE).
The foundation serves as an example of what economic empowerment of young people is all about.
Located in the heart of Ng’ombe township, FREE is a project generating income for young people through copper jewellery-making.
It started in 2010 by Dawn Bridget Close, initially targeting older women who were taught to make copper jewellery, but now has a bias towards young people.
This is because young people are said to be enthusiastic, open- minded to new innovations and are usually more eager to learn than the older women.
The foundation has a team of 10 dedicated adolescent girls who have been trained and are able to make different copper jewellery, including earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
Charity, the eighth born in a family of 10, completed her Grade 12 from Olympia School in Lusaka in 2007.
When she could not be supported to pursue her dream career in law, she had no option but to join FREE in 2013.
This was in a bid to raise money that could help her to carry on her dream career to become a lawyer.
“I learnt about the foundation from my aunt who used to be a member. I am here with the sole purpose of raising money that will allow me to go to study law,” Charity says.
She believes by becoming a lawyer, she will get the opportunity to defend the vulnerable people who lack legal representation in courts of law.
Charity also desires to uplift the status of her family which is currently known as a poor one with no hope of becoming better.
She is able to make any sort of jewellery using copper after undergoing training in jewellery production.
The products that she and the other girls make are sold locally at the Saturday market at Arcades Shopping Mall and other international markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
However, despite her determination to raise money for college, Charity has not been able to save as expected. This is because her income is unpredictable.
“I receive my wage depending on the products that I make and are sold out, this makes saving quite difficult. I always look forward to better sales of jewellery so that I could save enough money for college,” she says.
The highest amount of money Charity has bagged home was K1,800 in 2016. Her target is to make K3,000 per month.
Despite the meagre income she earns from FREE, Charity has developed love for jewellery -making and hopes to own her jewellery shop in future. This could be probably after she achieves her dream of becoming a lawyer.
According to her, if she had an opportunity, she could have borrowed money from the bank so that she could start the business and eventually raise funds for her university education. She has not been able to do so because banks demand that she provides collateral security.
She attests that it is difficult for small entrepreneurs without any form of collateral to get a loan from bank, but she is optimistic that the future is bright for her as she will not give up dreaming.
She works at the foundation five days a week from 09:00 hours to 17:00 hours and rests on Saturdays and Sundays.
FREE-funded by the Finnish embassy, encourages the young people to be assertive and plan to establish their own enterprises in future.
The foundation receives US$700 from the Finnish embassy monthly.
The founder, Ms Close, says the foundation aims to reverse the marginalisation of adolescents by providing them with the opportunity to better their lives.
This is in a bid to break the cycle of dependency through empowering young women to earn income.
The funding from the Finnish embassy is used to buy copper pieces which the girls use to make different jewellery sold locally and in other countries like the DRC.
The funding also enables Ms Close to train more young women how to run small businesses and become self-reliant.
“I chose the jewellery business because the global market for the business is growing, offering opportunities for the ladies to exploit the market,” Ms Close says.
Her goal is to add value to copper as too often African countries like Zambia are stripped of their natural resources when they are exported in raw form.
“Our jewellery is made from recycled copper, hot water heaters and from electrical wire,” she said.
FREE is moving towards processing its own semi-precious gemstones which will add greater value and appeal to the jewellery.
The young women at the foundation are happy with the kind of training and empowerment they have received. They hope to use the skill and knowledge to run their own enterprises in future.
Jemima Chilekwa, 25, is a University of Zambia (UNZA) graduate who completed in 2017. She has joined the foundation to gain entrepreneurial skills with the hope of running her own business.
“I studied Library Science and Development Studies, and when I could not find a job, the foundation took me in and I like what I am doing here,” Jemima said.
She believes adolescent girls need to rise up to the challenge to become agents of change by thinking ‘outside the box and embracing new things’.
Jemima has also been trained in silver smelting and looks forward to utilising the skill in future.
“My goal is to become finally independent,” Jemima says.
Collin Kaluba, 21, works closely with Jemima in silver smelting and the girls are excited and are determined to face and exploit future opportunities.
Finnish Ambassador to Zambia Timo Olkkonen said the embassy will continue to support initiatives that aim to uplift the well-being of the vulnerable.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka