Today, over a third of the company’s employees are living with a disability
LONDON, United Kingdom, December 22, 2020/ — André Messika cutting and polishing facility proactively recruits from Namibia’s disabled community; Today, over a third of the company’s employees are living with a disability; Productivity has improved along with employee morale; Each morning the custom-built company bus provides transport to help disabled employees get to work.
Of Namibia’s 2.5 million population, more than half are unemployed and more than 100,000 live with some form of disability, putting them at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to job opportunities. One natural diamond cutting, and polishing company decided to do something about it.
The project began in 2007 when Schachter & Namdar – founding partner of the André Messika facility – first set up operations in Namibia. “We decided to embark on employing disabled people because quite simply, we believe in equal opportunities where everyone should have a right to work and feel socially included,” said Marc Friedman, operations director. “It took about two years to bring in the first group of people because we had to adapt the factory for wheelchair users and then bring in sign language interpreters. Today I’m proud to say we’re the biggest employer of disabled people in Namibia.”
Today over a third of the company’s employees are disabled. In their Namibia headquarters, 16 out of 42 employees are living with a disability this number expected to increase in 2021.
Anna Marie Johnson, 26, was one of the first disabled employees. A wheelchair user since she was injured in a swimming pool accident at the age of eight, Anna Marie is now an experienced diamond polisher whose work is admired by global brands. “Growing up in the kind of neighbourhood I did, I didn’t get the degree or papers to even get a job,” she said. “Who would want to employ a wheelchair girl who was disabled and not educated? But then one day a man I recognised from TV stopped me in the street and asked me what I was doing with my life. When I said ‘nothing’, he said he had something that could help, and he’d pick me up on Monday morning. A bus came and he kept picking up disabled people. As we were driving, he explained to me about the opportunity.”
Not only does the company recruit wheelchair users and men and women with hearing impairments, it also proactively welcomes people from a wide spectrum of age groups. One example is Ruben Uheua, 62, who has been using crutches or a wheelchair since he contracted polio as a child. Now, Ruben, also a skilled diamond polisher, says: “My colleagues love me and that gives me joy and happiness. They gave me the nickname ‘Oupa’, meaning grandfather. I enjoy my job and love working with diamonds.”
Like the Natural Diamond Council, the André Messika cutting and polishing facility take their corporate social responsibility very seriously and places its workforce and local communities at the centre of its operations. The company’s training programmes take years before they yield highly skilled professionals that are true experts in their field, providing crucial employment opportunities that would otherwise elude many of those living with a disability.
Joseph Kunyenga, production manager, says that the quality and productivity of the company has improved since people living with a disability were invited to join their workforce “The quality of diamond cutting and polishing that we see from our team is on another level, we invest in training and make sure we have a supportive and encouraging working environment where people can thrive and feel proud of the work they do.”
“These are professional diamond cutters and polishers,” adds Friedman. “If you look at those who are hearing impaired, their concentration levels are much higher, they are totally focused without distractions. Our employees are so committed to their jobs, to growing in the company, and learning more things all the time.”
Raluca Anghel, Head of External Affairs at the Natural Diamond Council said: “Diversity is fundamental to the success of any business and this factory in Namibia is a shining example of how to create a happier, more productive working environment. What this diamond company has achieved is an inspiration not only to the diamond world, but to every employer. Every human deserves the same opportunities.”
Here are some more team stories…
Petrus Teofelus is in his early twenties and works as a diamond polisher. He was born with a profound hearing impairment and was unable to find employment after leaving school at 16. Thinking back to his unemployed years, he explains “It’s really difficult to get a job when no one understands what you are saying. I gave my CV to different places, but I think they ended up choosing people who could speak. Life was very stressful and difficult.”
Sebastian Joseph is in his early thirties and has been a wheelchair user since the age of five when he lost the use of his legs due to polio. He heard through his uncle that the André Messika facility was open to hiring people who were wheelchair users. Other companies simply were not set up for wheelchairs. In his interview, he was asked if he had ever worked with diamonds, he hadn’t, he was asked if he was willing to learn, to which he said yes and je started the next day.
Teopolina Sheveenyena is in her early 30’s and mother to a young baby. She works as a stock controller. Teopolina was born with a hearing impairment and prior to starting work she didn’t consider looking for a job, as she didn’t think there would any point, she explained “because people see that I can’t hear, I can’t talk, they think I’m unable to do the job”.