The Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment (FREE) teaches women artisanship, and through jewelry making, Zambian women gain financial sovereignty.
Dawn Close, Founder, first began this company as coursework towards her masters in International Development at the University of Pittsburgh. Born on American soil, she has long considered Zambia her home. Her strong belief in the innate power of women is her hallmark, and led to teaching herself and the women of the country she loves how to be jewelers.
Close says of their beginnings, “None of us had made jewelry before. We learned from books. I used the internet a lot, got DVD’s, and downloaded tutorials. Brenda (age seventeen), Rachel (age nineteen), and Margaret (age twenty-three) now teach the new participants. I give advice on design or monitor quality, but largely they’re quite independent and responsible.”
When the project began three years ago, FREE wanted to make copper jewelry since Zambia is a well-known copper producer. However, the copper is largely exported. Undeterred, Close and her team found creative ways around this problem. They worked with a manufacturer of electrical wire who uses either Zambian mined or recycled copper. For the copper sheets, Close came across a copper water heater repairman, with whom they still work with to this day.
The wire they shape using various pliers, then hammer and texture it until it’s ready to run through a rolling mill. The sheets require a lot of cleaning and sanding down before they are then cut down, hammered, and textured into the desired form.
“Anything we sell that is made of copper sheet is recycled- or we could say-upcycled,” Close notes.
A female miner sells them the amethysts, and the jewelers leave the stones close to their natural state. They either leave it in its raw and chipped state, or cut it with a trim saw and polish the flat of the stone, leaving its rough edges. A woman named Moka learns to facet while handling the cutting and polishing of the amethysts. FREE values Zambia’s natural resources, refusing to shop for processed stones elsewhere.
Approximately twenty-five women have graduated from FREE’s training center and now work independently from a shop in Garden Market. FREE continues to market their products and further benefit the community of Lusala, Zambia. The women are ages seventeen to twenty-five and many of them are single mothers. Income from this artisanship enables some of the women to finish their schooling.
Close wants all the women to succeed. “Most of the women who joined the project this year are not earning much. That’s the reason we’re coming to NY NOW, to expand our market so more women can earn income.”
FREE will be exhibiting their jewelry made from copper wiring, sheets, and semi-precious stones at NY NOW Artisan Resource at the Jacob Javits Convention Center from January 31st through February 3rd, 2016. For more information, please visit www.free-zambia.org.