- Kate Wilson

The amazing Grace...

Why are the Mulberry Mongoose ladies called courageous? Working in the heart of the Zambian bush is not for sissy's for a start off! We frequently chase baboon out of the shop or run inside as elephant are passing within metres of our snare hammering area. One day we were sat peacefully at our desks when an elephant's head appeared through the door; it was a mixture of noisy (the door split into pieces), amusing, wonderful and terrifying!

But Grace has another form of courage that is so important to Mulberry Mongoose. I first met Grace in 2015 when she came for a recruitment day. She wasn’t chosen but we gave her some piece-work when we could. Grace always worked with dedication and impressed us greatly.

We had a follow up talk where she begged me for work. She has a son but no support from his father, she also supports 12 dependents . Her house is shared by her sisters, brothers, mother, aunt and cousins. This is the tough part of living in a place where unemployment is so high; there just isn’t enough work for everyone. Then I had a light bulb moment which changed Grace’s life and the Mulberry Mongoose business for the better.

Could women make our snare coil beads instead of the men who were helping us on an adhoc basis at that point?

What are snare beads? Using wire collected in by the brave rangers of Conservation South Luangwa and Conservation Lower Zambezi, we coil or hammer the thick and very unmalleable wire into beautiful beads that look very striking in our jewelry. 

But making snare coils is hard work. Snare wire is often stolen by poachers from fencing; it is very tough and generally a stainless still, zinc alloy. That said women of the South Luangwa are strong. Having no electricity they carry firewood and water great distances, normally with their babies strapped to their backs.

We create thousands of snare beads throughout the year and they need to be sanded down using a grinding machine and then sandpaper which all takes time and effort. Could women, and in particular, Grace create them? 

Grace was determined to do it and delighted at the opportunity. It was not easy for her. She had workers gloves but the grip was not easy so she preferred bare hands. She started slow, a few hours every other day. She got blisters and her hands were rubbed raw from trying. She kept going with only a few murmurs about how hard it was. Within two months, and after numerous pain thresholds crossed, Grace got it. She could suddenly create the coils with amazing technique that made it look easy. She then set about training the rest of our female team to do the same.

Grace has now been part of the Mulberry Mongoose family for 7 years. She can not only make our snare coils, hammered snare wire beads and organic wooden beads but, due to her attitude has become one of our leading jewelry makers. Grace even coined our company motto ‘There is no sweet without sweat’ and she lives by it.

One word of warning though, don’t challenge Grace to an arm wrestle! 

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