By Brecken Branstrator
As often as it’s said and as cliché as it can sound, travel really can change your perspective.

For me, those occasions popped up every day when I was in East Africa. Seeing the way the gemstones were mined, meeting people and hearing how they lived--it was brand new and completely eye opening.

Professionally, the trip was beyond measure in what it taught me.

20160310 KidsI jumped in to take a picture with the kids.
But personally, one of the most profound moments happened when we took a trip out to the Kitarini Maasai Children’s School in rural northern Tanzania near the Kenyan border, where more than 400 children from the Maasai tribe attend classes. (Side note: for a great read about the Maasai people, check out the autobiography The Worlds of Maasai Warrior.)

The connection to the school originally came through a miner Roger Dery knows, Sune Merisheki. Sune has been involved since he first drove past the “school” and saw that they had no buildings or materials, and he and his wife Pia have been doing what they can to bring money and resources to Kitarini. Since then, a number of buildings have been constructed and more is, hopefully, to come. 

One of the obstacles a place like Kitarini faces is that many of the children have to walk a few miles each way every day to get to school, so attendance remains an issue. What’s more, it’s hard to attract good teachers who will move out there and stay in an area with such a hard lifestyle.
20160310 LollipopsThe students loved having their pictures taken and then getting to see themselves on the screen afterward. Photo credit: Dan Lynch

One of the reasons we went out to visit Kitarini was to give them the new books that our group had collected. Roger and Ginger partnered with a number of jewelry stores across the country who had collected books from their local community for kids of all ages. Others in the group also brought books and supplies.

The kids also were excited for us to be there because they knew we’d be handing out something special--candy. They lined up and patiently waited as we gave them, one by one, a lollipop.

The smiles on their faces after such a small gift, and their excitement later as the whole group received two new soccer balls to play with, was something so touching I can’t even put it into words.

It takes a special type of experience to force you to acknowledge how blessed you are and what you’ve taken for granted, and it’s an experience I wish everyone could have.

20160310 Selfie-stickThe children at Kitarini are entranced by the selfie stick.
Thank you to all of those who allowed me this opportunity of a lifetime--Roger and Ginger Dery; Nancy Schuring, Joe Portale and the Devon Foundation; Gichuchu Okeno; my National Jeweler team for supporting me while I was off the grid for a couple weeks; and our owner, Jewelers of America. This was one trip that will not soon be forgotten.

There is so much good work to be done for these communities still.

If you’d like to give money to help some of these projects that I’ve talked about in my T.I.A. blog series, donate to the Devon Foundation, which helps build up and support the gemstone communities in East Africa. Debbie Swinney is the primary contact for the foundation, and she can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 201-848-8489.

If you’re interested in taking a trip to East Africa with Roger and Ginger, you can reach out to Roger directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Ginger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., at 248-545-3546 or via

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