Her diminutive frame notwithstanding, she speaks with authority and the members of the community-based organisation listen to her respectfully. Meet Lucie Mshai Nyambu, 27, a gem expert employed by the Taita Taveta County Government to help local communities in the county to participate and benefit from Kenya’s gemstones industry. A team from UN Women met Lucie recently during a visit to the Chawia Minerals community-based organisation to learn about gender issues in the informal mining industry. The CBO has been mining the hills of Taita since 2014, mainly for green garnet, which they market through local and international channels. The mining industry in Taita Taveta is a source of employment and livelihood to hundreds of locals who live around gemstone-rich areas, which are arid and semi-arid and therefore unfit for agriculture and livestock keeping. The Taita County government is supporting local groups such as Chawia engaged in artisanal mining, to refine their skills in business and marketing, and to add value to the gemstones for better returns. Lucie supports these CBOs, especially on market research and value addition. Here is her story in her own words:
27 year old Lucie Mshai Nyambu (left), showcases a gem to a client (Photo by UN Women Kenya/ Monica Wanjiru
“I have been a gemologist since 2014. I trained at the Gemological Institute of Great Britain in Madagascar, where I obtained a Diploma, Level 6 in Gemology (the study of gemstones), through a scholarship offered by the Taita Taveta County Government. This course gave me the skills and knowledge required to identify, grade, and appraise gemstones, and to estimate their quality and market value. I also learnt how to guide clients on which gemstones to buy and how to build the capacity of artisanal miners, who are many in our county, to enable them to improve their livelihoods, earn a living from selling of their gemstones.
“As a County Gemologist, it is part of my responsibilities to visit miners at their sites to advice on proper, safe, and sound mining methods and the importance of land reclamation after mine closure. We also help them to identify and test the mineral components and determine the value of the gemstone. We have been carrying out gem surveys and identifying the gemstone potential areas in the county such as Mgeno, Mkuki, and Mwananchi ranches. I have conducted market research on new gem markets overseas, branding of our gemstones and lobbying international dealers to come and buy minerals from our county.
“There are very few women in this sector (gemstone mining and processing) which is dominated by men and driven by male chauvinism. Women in mining experience Sexual and Gender based violence in many ways. They are discriminated against, chased away from the mines by their male colleagues and subjected to indecent searches by their employers after a hard day of labor on suspicions that they are smuggling minerals out of the mines. When I first heard the women recount their ordeal, I was challenged to bring change in this sector. It’s my belief that women are equally strong and can hold their own against a male-dominated community. I want to prove this by standing tall in a sector that is mostly dominated by men.
“I am looking forward to an industry where everyone’s rights are respected especially women are not violated, children are not used as labourers, every worker is paid according to the labour laws in Kenya, employees are given protective gears to protect them from dust and harm, the investors sign and abide by the community agreements and keep their promise to deliver on Cooperate Social Responsibilities projects and mining activities adhere to the set rules and regulations guiding rehabilitation of closed sited to protect the environment
“The biggest opportunity for women lies in value addition of gemstones. We encourage women to form groups such as the Taita Taveta Women in Mining group, where they can cut and polish gemstones, and use the residue for antiques, decorating tiles, curios and making ornaments. Women are also quite adept in marketing. I will continue sensitizing my community especially women and youth on value addition as I believe although change takes time and my contribution as at now is just a drop in the ocean, every little effort counts towards achieving a prosperous county, where mining becomes the backbone of our economy and women benefit from it.
“I am passionate about helping my community exploit gemstones wealth in this county, to create wealth for my people and job opportunities for youth and women in my community. Most miners are poor, the only thing they have to show for their hard work is their bruised hands. This has to change, employers in the mining sector must ensure they pay their workers as per the existing labor regulations. I also want to champion for patenting of our green-garnet (Tsavorite), a high value gemstone only found in Taita Taveta. I believe minerals belong to the community as a whole not just a person who has for a long time exploited this lacuna to make a profit for themselves.