JCK Las Vegas 2012: Speeches Touch Showgoers’ Hearts

JCK Las Vegas can be a whirlwind of business and socializing. But sometimes events during the week strike a deeper chord, as when two speeches put a human face on the industry’s charitable efforts.

At the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s May 2 “Diamonds for Good” panel, 21-year-old Democratic Republic of Congo native Joseph Munyambanza told of being forced to move into a refugee camp at age 6. Determined not to let his circumstances define him, he studied hard even though he often went for days without a meal.

As a teenager, Munyambanza and some friends put together Cobras, a mentoring school for young people at the camp. “We did not have money to pay school fees, but we encouraged those who dropped out of school to go back,” he said. “Grades began to improve, and more children were attending school.”

“Sometimes, we had no food,” he continued. “We struggled to get money for fees and rent. Many have become ill with malaria, and some of our friends have died. But we all share a vision, and work relentlessly to achieve it.”

In 2008, Munyambanza enrolled in the African Leadership Academy, a South African school, and won a DEF Scholars Grant, which supports students from diamond-producing countries. He is now studying to be a doctor at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., and credits the Diamond Empowerment Fund for his success. (A JCK TV interview with Munyambanza can be seen at jckonline.com/video.)

High schooler Andrew spoke at the Jewelers for Children annual “Facets of Hope” dinner on May 3. The oldest of 12 children, he spent most of his youth in and out of foster care. When Andrew was 8, his mother’s abusive boyfriend killed his 8-month-old brother, and beat his older brother so badly he ended up in a coma. Soon his mother met a new man, and won back custody of her children. But when bruises were discovered on Andrew’s siblings’ bodies, the kids were again placed in foster care. (Andrew’s mother and her boyfriend are now in prison.)  

But Andrew’s life soon turned around—thanks, he says, to two volunteers from the CASA (Court-Assisted Special Advocates) program, a group supported by JFC. “They attended court on behalf of my siblings and me,” Andrew said. “They monitored my case to ensure appropriate services were identified and provided whenever necessary. They ­coordinated a schedule that allowed me to visit my mother on my terms.”

Today, Andrew has a 3.7 GPA, and he’s the ­student body president. The JFC dinner is filled with touching stories, but many found Andrew’s story particularly inspiring, and he received a sustained standing ovation. 

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