Kimberley Abbott was chosen from a field of 239 women as a finalist in the New South Wales Woman of the Year awards. At 24 years of age, she is the youngest person recognised in the awards.
Each Indian worker toils for 12 hours a day, six days a week, cutting granite blocks by hand for just $1.50 a day.
Upfront, India’s poverty can be smothering and devastating for any young Australian but for engineering student Abbott, it was life changing.
Not content to be just another education volunteer with the 40K Foundation in 2012, she set about using the skills she had gained at the University of Wollongong to help female quarry workers in Bangalore seek an alternative stream of income.
“India broke my heart but it set it alight too,” said Abbott who discovered a way to turn granite dust into jewellery.
Kimberley decided to use the granite powder, a by-product of their back breaking labour, which is usually swept off the quarry floor and dumped into a nearby river.
The question she faced was how could these unskilled women, who live in slums and sleep on dirt floors, turn the dust into a product with no tools, running water or electricity?
Abbott wanted to be certain her idea was viable and sustainable before presenting it to the women. She returned to India last year after developing a method of mixing granite dust with clay, which when coloured using natural Indian powders, can be made into beads and pendants, and turned into jewellery.
“Jewellery is significant to these women because it’s a status symbol in India,” Abbott said.
She then founded Roka, which means stone in Hindi, as a business and social enterprise, not a charity. “The aim is economic empowerment for these women,” said Abbott.
Five executives run Roka and about 60 volunteer students, all keen to make a difference in the world.
Abbott was last year was named one of The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence.
The former Kiama High School student, who grew up in Gerringong, NSW, says when she started her engineering degree there were only five girls out of 198 students.
Source: The Illawarra Mercury