Kaunda, who is now paying for his brother’s university education, says that ten years ago he could barely afford to pay his rent, and his circumstances, at the time, placed any further education prospects out of reach.
It was during this stage of his life, when he had no real aspirations to advance, that he joined the diamond industry, as a polisher.
Ten years later, what started out as a means to secure his economic survival, has turned Kaunda into the youngest Namibian expert in his field, who is now able to work with a diamond from its rough phase, to its completion as a polished product.
Kaunda is among over 100 previously disadvantaged Namibians, who have carved out a niche for themselves, while working at Almod Diamonds in Prosperita.
Over the years, he has acquired a set of skills second to none, and understands the diamond process from start to finish.
“Before, I was struggling to even pay rent, and I was living with my aunt, but I focused on my work and now I stay on my own and I am paying for my brother, who is at university. I am also looking after my two boys,” Kaunda told the Windhoek Observer recently.
He says desperation pushed him to apply for a job ten years ago, but his hopes were shattered, when he couldn’t secure employment after an initial interview.
However, he did not lose hope.
Three months after his first interview, the managers of the company decided to call him back for a second time, which he passed with flying colours.
Initially, he struggled to grasp the theoretical aspects of the job.
“We were given the theory and told to master all the processes of diamonds. Later they decided that you will only specialise in the process you believe you can do well, which was a challenge for me, because the theory they gave me, I could not understand,” he said.
It was only when he started doing the practical aspects that he began to make his mark, by immediately showing an aptitude for mathematics, geometry and art.
“In the beginning we were training on boards and not on the real diamond. I was polishing quality, and then shape, and then we started with the crown. It was spotted that the quality of my polishing was up to standard, even surpassing expectations, and this got me noticed,” he said
The young man excelled further, and after three months, he was given a real diamond to work on.
“I went through all the practical tests, and at the end, when I compared myself with the other colleagues, I was better. I was even better than the people who started before me.
“I knew how to repair the stone, I understood the stone fully, I was comfortable working on my own, and I also worked very fast and very precisely. While others were still working on one stone, I would be working on many,” he boasted
After nine months, the young man excelled once again, and was moved further up the chain, by being given the opportunity to process the diamond from start to finish.
The first diamond he worked on from start to finish was an eye-opener and it grew his passion even further.
“When I saw the shine and the brilliance of the stone, and realised that it was me who did that, it gave me an even stronger focus,” he said.
According to Kaunda, polishing involves accuracy and focus.
“At that stage I started pushing very hard to surpass everyone, and became the best. I was working and absorbing knowledge from my peers, who had more experience than me, and also the expats who were training us,” he said.
Like a sponge, the young man absorbed everything. He watched, paid attention and asked questions were he needed to.
“When they were polishing, I would look at their stones and see how they did it, and also look at their mistakes, and ask them about the mistakes, for me to be better, and not to make those same mistakes.”
At that stage, Kaunda was able to carry out all the polishing processes a diamond goes through, but he still had a hunger to learn more.
“When I realised that I had become good at polishing, I spoke to the manager again, because I decided that I just did not want to know about the polished diamond, but I also wanted to know about the rough ones, before the polish, and he started giving me the rough to work on my own, and I was now doing the full process.
“I would start off with the rough... He would tell me, go on the table, put those facets on the diamond, and I would do that,” he beamed.
He excelled once again, and was promoted to marking and planning rough diamonds.
Later, he was appointed to train students, who were being employed at the factory.
“In the planning department, because of my drive I surpassed expectations. I was very fast, and would plan more stones than they expected me to do per day, and this gave my bosses more confidence in me, and they started testing me on the colour and clarity of the stone, and on how I take decisions on the stone, and I followed the steps until a time when I became certified,” he said.
After he was certified, he could work alone on a stone, from start to finish.
As a qualified marker, Kaunda is required to assist in sorting rough stones at the Namibia Diamond Trading Company (NDTC), on behalf of Almod Diamonds.
“From sorting at NDTC, to when they (the diamonds) come to the factory, I help out to resort the stones,” he said
Last year, the young father of two sons (8 and 4 years) was sent to a five-day course at an Israeli company, Sarine, a world leader in the development and manufacturing of advanced evaluation, planning, cutting, shaping, polishing and grading systems for diamond and gemstone production.
“My inspiration is that I want this industry to support each and every Namibian. In future I would like to manage a factory, where I can buy stones, plan and train other Namibians in this industry.
“I would like to see my fellow Namibians involved in the diamond industry. For me it has changed my life, both financially and educationally. I have acquired a lot of knowledge here,” he said.
The factory which is situated in Prosperita sells the diamonds in over 150 outlets worldwide.