Dignity in Diamond Polishing

By By Martha Mukaiwa
October 2011
Prime Business
Through a pioneering process of apprenticeship and adaptation, diamond polishing company Schachter and Namdar has become the first company in Namibia to recruit an entire department of people with disabilities.

In a move to foster socio-economic productivity and independence to one of the most marginalized segments of society, Schachter and Namdar, currently employs 17 deaf and wheelchair bound diamond polishers in everyday and integral processes at their factory in Prosperita.

“Part of our mission statement is to benefit communities in the various countries in which we operate and one of our goals is to create employment,” says Schachter and Namdar operations director, Marc Friedman.

“We started the factory in 2007 and our target was to create employment specifically for young people but over the years we realized that within the 53% of people currently unemployed in Namibia, 85 000 are disabled.”

The company began development of its Department for Persons with Disabilities in 2009 by identifying a woman fluent in sign language to train as a diamond cutter and polisher with the view to train subsequent deaf recruits in the mode in which they are accustomed. After training the sign linguist for just under two years, Schachter and Namdar then began to identify nine deaf candidates who would be suitable to cut and polish diamonds and could start training in February 2011.

“Our deaf diamond polishers have been polishing for seven months and they have gained a lot of knowledge while proving to be very dedicated,” says Friedman.

“Based on their success, the fast way they learn and adapt and how appreciative and happy they are to have work, we decided to take it one step further and create a section for wheelchair use.”

While enthused about adding more disabled people to their department, incorporation of wheelchair users was a bit more complicated and the company looked to the National Disability Council for advise and recommendations on how best to make their working area wheelchair serviceable.

“While getting the deaf employees settled was simple enough, modifying the factory for wheelchair users was a bit trickier. We had to adapt and modify machinery and tools and tweak the premises to aid accessibility,” says Friedman.

“Also, while the factory was ready in June, when the recruits came to work we realized that there was no public transport for the disabled so we bought and modified a mini bus to transport them to and from work. Our programme eventually began mid-June and currently the wheelchair users are in the beginning stages of training and are progressing well.”

In a somewhat poetic progression, Schachter and Namdar Namibia partner, shareholder and director, Sadike Nepela is also disabled after contracting polio at two years of age. “My disability has never been a hurdle but rather a challenge that I had to face head on to always stay ahead of the so called normal people” says Nepela.

In addition to his directorial acuity, Friedman says of Nepela “Given his own experience of course he was very supportive of the department and I think that he is a good role model for disabled people as he is a successful business man and this just shows there are no limits to the success a disabled person can achieve.”

Though the inclusion and assimilation of persons with disabilities is a responsibility incumbent upon the Ministry of Health and Social Services with the co-ordination function being run from the Disability Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister, Honourable Prime Minister Nahas Angula does not believe the buck stops with the government. “We should all assist government in its bid to realize its developmental goals,” said Angula at the launch of Schachter and Namdar’s Department for Persons with Disabilities last month.

“The Namibian Constitution clearly stipulates that all Namibians have fundamental rights to enjoy the resources of the country irrespective of race, creed, sex, disability, etc. It is with this in mind that I salute the noble efforts of Schachter and Namdar with the hope and trust that others would be able to emulate you. With this, Schachter and Namdar have demonstrated its commitment to the development of our country and its people.”

Young Anna-Marie Johnson who works as a diamond polisher at Schachter and Namdar is just as appreciative as the Honourable Prime Minister and feels that this is the first time that she sees some hope for her life post paralysis. “I always thought I would never work, be normal and do something by myself but Schachter and Namdar gave me that,” says Johnson.

“It feels great to be able to do something and not just depend on people. What this company is doing means a lot to people with disabilities and I am feeling very good and positive right now.”

In a bid to employ many more people like Johnson, Schachter and Namdar would like to continue its work in association with the National Disability Council to make sure people know that people with disabilities are employable and capable of reaching the targets put before them. “ What we need to do now is work closely with the National Disability Council to show other companies how easy it is to employ people with disabilities and modify their workplace if necessary,” says Friedman. “We would also be willing to give other companies advice and assistance if need be as our long term goal is to get these disabled people employed.”

With development at their core and hearts much softer than the diamonds with which they make their living, Schachter and Namdar is a local diamond polishing company to be imitated and admired.