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Meet the silversmith freedom fighter who is changing lives

PASSION: Norma Murrain in her Birmingham workshop

‘MAKE JEWELLERY – change lives.’ This is the mantra of Birmingham silversmith Norma Murrain, who has indeed helped to change and improve the lives of hundreds of women across the globe with her inspirational work.

With a passion to help those in real need, jewellery designer Norma has combined her skills with her deep faith in God bring dignity, hope and a new financial independence to women whose lives have been blighted by exploitation.

With small teams of fellow volunteers, she has helped people in Haiti, India and now widows in Nigeria to improve their own lives and those of their children by passing on her jewellery-making skills.

“I suppose in a way I’ve always been a freedom fighter,” smiles Norma, at her workshop in the heart of Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter. “I firmly believe that if there is justice and quality in the world, then we don’t need charity.

“But then I know I wouldn’t have achieved any of this without God’s help. I always say: ‘to God be the Glory – great things he has done.’”

It’s incredible to take in how much Norma has achieved since she opened her workshop back in 2002. A former business lecturer at a Sutton Coldfield college, she felt God urging her on to change the direction of her life – and felt the answer could lie in jewellery making, despite never having made anything before in her life.

“I was talking to a fellow teacher about how much I wanted to try making jewellery and he said ‘well, I’m a silversmith – come and try one of my courses.’ I went along and just loved it and took to it easily.”

Within a year Norma had given up teaching and launched her jewellery making business which she called the Silver Fish Company using ethically sourced material to create unique designs inspired by the Bible.

“Jewellery had changed my life, so I wanted it to help changed other people’s lives,” adds Norma. “Seven years later I launched ‘Treasured’ the charitable foundation of the company to ‘unlock treasure’ in disadvantaged people through mentoring and training.”

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In 2011 she travelled to Haiti in the Caribbean to meet scores of people who had been left with terrible crush injuries from the earthquake of 2010.

“Many of them were left in wheelchairs after their legs had been crushed, but they were still able to use their upper bodies, so we set up jewellery workshops using resources like coconut shells, nutmeg shells and seeds – things which are often thrown away. They were able to use these and sell the jewellery to make a living.”

A year later Norma made two trips to Andhra Pradesh in southern India where she worked with the Mercy Mission Welfare Society and Harvest India to help women in poverty and those who had been victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse.

“I found the whole experience extremely emotional meeting these women,” recalls Norma, a mum-of-three. “I don’t think I have ever cried so much when I heard what they had been through. But the jewellery course was a way for them to keep their families together by giving them an income, hope and dignity.”

Then a chance meeting with the team behind Lincoln-based Shepherd’s Food Ministries led Norma on a third mission – to help women widowed in Nigeria.

With a welcome from the Anglican Church in Nigeria’s Osun Diocese and the Dorcas Foundation, Norma and her small team who included Pauline Anderson, of Shalom Christian Counselling and Bunmi Ogunyemi, of Shepherds Food Ministries, taught more than 50 women how to make beaded crosses, Alpha bracelets, earrings and tiaras.

“We all felt a deep connection with the women in Nigeria,” adds Norma, whose parents hail from Jamaica. “It felt like we were being welcomed home – we felt we had been separated from these women by slavery.

“One of the most poignant activities was a ‘crowning’ ceremony for the widows, who made their own tiaras. This was based on a Bible verse from Isaiah who says: ‘To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.

“I gave a demonstration on tiara making. Each widow made one and then the clergy wives who were present crowned every widow. It was very moving.

“During our mission there we met a widow called Femi who owned her own gemstone mine, but because of a lack of a stone cutting machine that cost around £650 she was forced to sell the ‘rough’ stones for little or nothing.


HIGHER LEARNING: Norma teaching widows to make jewellery in Nigeria

“We paid a fair price and brought some of the stones back for testing; they turned out to be genuine aquamarine, topaz, kunzite, rose quartz and amethyst. They were cut, set and polished in the UK as part of our ‘Jesus Rocks’ collection.

“This has now empowered widows like Femi while providing employment for the next generation of British jewellers.”

Norma’s next mission in Nigeria is to use an acre of land she has brought to build a retreat or a centre where jewellery workshops can be held.

She is planning to return to Nigeria in July, while also taking some young disenfranchised people from Lincoln who could also benefit from the workshops.

“So many of these women are not widowed through death, rather they are innocent victims of polygamy where their husbands simply move on to new wives. There is a genuine need for these women to become financially independent, but they learn quickly. The workshops are great fun.”

Norma is organising a fundraising barbecue and bead-making session on Sunday February 21st from 2pm at the Global Joint Smokehouse, 20 Holyhead Road, Handsworth (opposite Holyhead School.) Everyone is welcome.

For more information, visit: www.silverfishjewellery.co.uk

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