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Gardens of the Sun: About the Makers

Meri from Garden of the Sun is a beautiful jewellery designer. She and her team have established an ethical jewellery design and make space that leaves me slightly breathless with the beauty and the quality of the rings, earrings and necklaces they design. But more than that, every piece is made with deep respect for the earth and the people who mine for the gold and the gems.

I think Gardens of the Sun team most outstanding achievement is their relationship with the people who mine their gold. They have a friendship and a care for the women who go out each day to pan for gold in Indonesia's rivers. 

The following is Meri's blog about the women who mine for gold in Kalimantan, Borneo: 

"Once upon a time, there was a village filled with brilliant gold miners who have mined gold for generations. They lived in the heart of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), and I feel so lucky to have met them."

"Her long, deep-black hair was tucked gracefully to one side of her shoulder. It was a sun-soaked afternoon when I met Ibu Leni in her humble tin-roofed kitchen that traps heat like an oven. In her unique, humorous tone and with a face shining with a friendly glow, she introduced herself to me. 

 “My name is Leni Marlina. My nickname is Ina. My more special nickname is Epit. Mama Epit, people call me after my oldest son.”

Ibu Leni, tell me about your family.

My husband doesn’t have a permanent job. He goes hunting, he works in the fields, he farms, and sometimes he also mines for gold. I work as a gold miner when the kids are off to school. I’ve never worked a real job before, though I’ve been mining gold with my parents since I was a kid. Before this, I also worked in the fields as a farmer, moving from one field to another. In a way, it was like gold mining, because we move from creek to creek, to look for the ones that have gold in it.

How do you find the right river to mine gold?

My ancestors were miners, I’m so used to doing it since I was little, I don’t know how to answer your question. I just know. There are many characteristics of a river that has gold in it, but it’s hard for me to explain. I think I learned with experience and now it has become like an instinct. 

We used to walk very far from one river to the other looking for gold. But now we have motorbikes, so we can go there easily. That’s one of the things that has changed since YTS and Gardens of the Sun came here.

I’m so glad to hear that. What else has changed?

We used to use mercury to separate gold from other metal and dirt, now we don’t anymore. We’ve gone back to using the traditional way to mine, the way that our ancestors did. 

I don’t use any mercury in the process, same like my grandmother. Since around 2005, most people in our area started using mercury to make the process of separating the gold faster. 

Recently, we learned that it’s a dangerous way to mine gold. YTS (an Indonesian Fair Trade Mining Co-op) came here to explain why it’s bad for us to use mercury. They explained that we might not feel the effects now, but that we might see it in the future. Particularly us women, and it would affect our children too. So we stopped using mercury. 

Could you tell me more about the women-miners group that you’re a part of?

YTS came to our village, Tewang Pajangan, in 2017. They wanted to help us use better mining processes. They educated us and helped women here to mine gold safely. 

Apart from the premium price we now receive from YTS and Gardens of the Sun for our gold, we were also interested in the educational and developmental benefits. So we created this group, and I’m grateful we did it.

How’s the situation for the mining families now?

After we joined the cooperative, it feels like things are improving. A lot of the miners have family situations similar to mine. We need a little help. Some have many children; Ibu Mini, for example, has 9 children, Ibu Gineng has 8 kids, some others have maybe 2 or 4 children, and now all our kids go to school. I’m happy that all of us are able to afford school tuition, because many of our husbands don’t have a full-time job. 

What’s your dream?

My dream is simple. I want to have a better home... a place where we can live comfortably. To have my kids finish school. I hope they can also go to university, to be successful - I want them to be more successful than me. Most children here finish high school, some of them even got their Bachelor degree. I’m proud of that.

Our interview ended; it was time for us to go to the mining site. Joining the women for work that day, I got to experience a part of their life. To work with them, meeting their family, and seeing the impact that you help us create in their life, I’m very proud to have you as a part of this journey. This year, we’ll continue to grow and touch more lives than ever before, and it’s all thanks to you that we get to do this! Stay tuned, and see where we’ll move forward."