By Brecken Branstrator
The Precious Women Mine in Mkuki, Kenya has been operating for almost a year. The woman-run mine is currently finding small tsavorite garnets.

Though there are more and more women working in gemstone mining, it’s still a small number and it still piques interest when we hear about them.

It’s important for the trade to take care of all of  miners doing the hard work of pulling our precious materials from the ground, but I especially love when we can throw our support behind the women in the industry that are cutting their own paths in the sector.

So I was very excited to hear about a recent project to raise money for a woman-run mine in Kenya that also has a personal aspect for me.

In early 2016, Gichuchu Okeno, a Kenyan gemstone dealer, miner, broker and friend to many, died from kidney failure. Aside from mourning the loss of his life and the places he would’ve taken the East African gemstone market, I think those around him also worried about the family for which he provided.

20181219 Precious insertTsavorite garnet rough from the Precious Women Mine in Mkuki, KenyaOkeno was a close friend and business colleague of gemstone faceter Roger Dery and his family.

The latter launched Gem Legacy this fall, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting education, vocational training and the local economies of East Africa.

Having met Okeno and his family while I was traveling with the Derys in January 2016, when I called to talk to them about the new 501(c)(3) in August, they mentioned Okeno’s widow, Esther Yaro, and how well she has been doing. I can’t tell you what a gift that was to hear.

In fact, she found her way into the gemstone business herself and is now the head of the Precious Women Mine in Mkuki, Kenya. The mine has operated for almost a year and is currently finding small tsavorite garnets as they follow the indicator minerals.

Now, Gem Legacy wants to help them take the next step by launching a year-end giving campaign goal of $9,500 to install a compressor at the mine, which would make the use of power tools possible instead of having them mine by hand with farming tools.

[Update: The campaign has raised nearly $8,500 so far, making it just $1,000 short of its goal.]

The sum will fund a used compressor and jackhammer with installation, replacement parts and miner training.

In launching the campaign, Gem Legacy is continuing the work started by Chrysa Cohen and her team at Delaware’s Continental Jewelers, partners of Gem Legacy. After visiting the mine this summer, Cohen was moved by the women’s work and their struggles and started the initiative to fund the compressor.

Roger Dery said, “We selected the Precious Women mine as Gem Legacy’s first long-term mine partnership because of its female leadership and unique impact in the local community. The mine is run by a group of Kenyan women who have rallied together. Most are widows and all have challenges to keep food on the table. Their goal is to share the wealth of the mine with those in greatest need in the local community.”

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