In late February 2019, Doug Meadows left the comfort of his Atlanta store far behind and traveled to Lusaka, Zambia. He’s there to teach a class of eager pupils, a group of young women ranging in age from 18 to 30. This was no ordinary class and not just because it was happening so far from home. It represented a goal Doug has worked toward through years of trips to African countries. He wanted to mentor businesses and share his jewelry expertise to help people improve their economic status and lives. He has been teaching this group for some years now.
Training Jewelers in Zambia
His students have a bare-bones workshop located in Lusaka’s slums. It has intermittent power, resulting in insufficient light. But the women are undaunted, happy to have a place to work, and grateful for the opportunities it gives them. Doug has helped them compensate for the power problems with battery-powered drills. They also have propane-fueled torches that he taught them to use. They do much of their work by hand.
The women create hand-fashioned jewelry from recycled copper that they sell to stores in Finland, South Africa, and a few in the U.S. But copper tarnishes and, as they seek to expand their markets, this poses a problem. “I’m a solutions guy, “ Doug says. “So, I immediately thought of gold plating the jewelry to elevate it, prevent tarnish, and broaden its appeal.”
Doug tapped his industry contacts to arrange a shipment of tools and supplies in August 2019 and returned to Lusaka in October 2019, to teach a group of the women how to do the gold plating. Unfortunately, the shipment was still in Customs only to be released the day before he left. That gave him one day to teach. Fortunately, he had brought a video of the training he did at Legor. He left this with them and promised to return for more instruction after the holiday season. Hence, the late February visit.
Dawn Close, the American missionary who runs the orphanage where the women live, has played a central role in supporting the burgeoning jewelry business. She has helped the women get grants to offset the cost of equipment and Doug’s travel, and she has helped them find markets.
As Doug reviews gold plating technique with a small group of women, the others continue to fashion their creations, completely engrossed in their work. It represents a level of economic independence and, most importantly, hope for a better future.
What He’s Learned
Doug says he’s learned more from these young women than they’ve learned from him. But I’m not sure they would agree. He’s taught them about gemstone faceting and lab-grown diamonds. He’s helped them get essential tools and how to use them. He’s helped them get and set up benches. And now he’s added gold plating to their skills.
“I’m blown away by what they’ve accomplished with very little,” he says. “It inspires me and speaks to their spirit and determination. I stay in regular touch with them and plan to help in any way I can. It’s been a gift to be part of this.”
His Own Path
For Doug, education is an ongoing pursuit. “Life is education. I’ve learned from everyone who has worked for me, from my customers, from jewelers I meet at conferences, and from business people I meet in my community and beyond.”