Jamie Jockwig stands outside of his new studio, Baraka Gemstones and Jewelry. Ten percent of all profits goes toward orphans in East Africa.
Selling jewelry, helping orphans
Last Monday, Baraka Gemstones & Jewelry just opened in a new location.
Haven’t heard of it? That’s probably because the original store was tucked away on the 3rd floor of the Ballard Building above Starbucks, where, unless called upon or through word of mouth, almost no one wanders.
The owner of Baraka, Jamie Jockwig, said he is excited to be at his new place, which is located at 1521 NW 54th St, Studio 103. It faces out onto the street, and already in the first week, he said he feels like he got more referrals than he has in the past 4-5 months at his old location.
Baraka offers a variety of jewelry and services. Handcrafted, traditional, bridal and engagement, custom and repair. “There’s nothing we can’t do in fine jewelry,” Jockwig said. He added that he thinks not a single customer that came into his old location had a problem or request that he could not help with.
But Baraka is more than just any jewelry store. It’s a business created from a desire to help orphans in Africa.
“Some companies give money to causes that they believe in as something they do,” Jockwig said. “Caring for orphans is who we are. It’s not something we do, it’s why we exist.”
10 percent of all profits go towards orphans in East Africa, helping provide shelter, food, clothes, school, and whatever necessities children need to survive.
Before Jockwig decided to start selling jewelry, he was an educator and counselor who found himself working in Africa on AIDs issues. Something he noticed was the great number of orphans, caused by the AIDs epidemic and other widespread diseases.
He went to Africa four separate times, he said, with the last three times being spent primarily at the orphanage in East Africa. There Jockwig met people and kids who were “not only struggling to survive, but striving to live,” he said.
“People who are highly intelligent, very capable, very passionate, very hard working and industrious,” he said. “I saw a lot of that in the kids.”
In the end, it was the children who inspired him to do something. He said without them, Baraka Gemstones and Jewelry would not exist.
“I have always cared for kids who have not had a lot of family support who don’t deserve to be abandoned.”
When asked if any particular child struck him, Jockwig nodded and said yes.
He went into a backroom and brought back a large picture of a forlorn girl he met at the orphanage named Joyce. She always stayed off to the side, never interacting with other children, he said. Leaders at the orphanage said they did not know what happened in her life, only that it was something very bad.
“The look on her face was always one bent towards emptiness,” he said. “The look on her face was always … hopeless. Fearful. Suspicious. Hurting.”
In the picture, Joyce wore clothes far too heavy for the 90-100 degree weather of East Africa. Three layers, with one being a wool jacket, and on her head a wool cap.
“She was constantly cold, feeling very sick,” Jockwig said. “And I thought, who’s going to do something?”
Another picture that sits framed upon his desk showed a happier moment, of Jockwig smiling and playing with a group of kids.
He did not know right away how he would help Joyce or the other orphans, though.
When he took back some Tanzanite stones he bought from local artists, he found that they appraised well. It was then that he had the idea to start a business selling the stones in America and sending profits back to East Africa. The money was meant not simply to provide a quick fix, he said, but to help the orphanages to become self-sustaining.
The business started in 2009, and at the time only featured the original colored stones. But it has since expanded into a full jewelry store.
Even entering the store is an entirely different experience from any other jewelry store. On the storefront windows, guests will see the words stretching across, “Precious Metals,” “Precious People” and “Precious Jewelry.”
Inside, it almost looks more like a home rather than a store or an office. Jockwig called it a studio, meant to provide a softer experience for guests.
Jockwig sits at his desk situated near the front door, where he almost immediately offers customers a beverage. Behind him is a living room setup with comfortable chairs and couches where customers can sit and scroll through jewelry on an iPad hooked up to a big screen TV. On the walls hang large photographs of children he has met in Africa. Soft music plays in the background. Louis Armstrong could be heard softly singing and trumpeting, crooning would-be customers.
On his desk is a letter from Jane Goodall, the famous anthropologist and chimpanzee expert, that starts out, “I was so delighted to receive the jewelry and learn about the good things you are doing to help orphans.”
Eventually, Jockwig hopes to do more with his business. He wants to get to a point where he can send as much as 50 percent of all profits back to East Africa, but, he admitted, that may be a long way away.
He is also thinking of starting a touring company called “Baraka Tours.” Tourists would volunteer at an orphanage part of the time, and the other part of the time would be doing more touristy things, like chasing cheetahs in a safari jeep, he said. He would have a tour every six months with eight people, he said.
Whatever happens, Jockwig appears to be in it for the long run. He said that he had a moment where he thought if he would continue the business. But with the new studio, he has forged ahead, and has not looked back.
After the first day of being in the new studio, Jockwig wrote on Facebook:
“I just closed the doors to the studio for the first time, and in some ways, closed the doors to one of the best days of my life. I’m so grateful for this studio, and for Grandma Betty for helping to make it possible.”