Meet Beatrice and Esther, two widowed Kenyan women mining for Tsavorite Garnet. Beatrice has two sons and a handful of grandbabies. Esther has three kids under age 12. Beatrice has been a miner for more than a decade and is famed for her wisdom and leadership. Esther took over her husband’s gem business and love for gems when he died unexpectedly four years ago.
Together, they lead a group of six other women who call themselves “The Precious Women.” They’ve been mining for Tsavorite Garnet since January 2018 and are fiercely determined, encouraged by the small yet beautiful Tsavorite they’ve found. They’ve traversed a weaving tunnel underground that spans more than the length of a football field as they follow the signs in the rock. Their guide is their eyes as they match what they see to the folk tales they’ve heard their whole lives. Tsavorite Garnet is legendary for those in the Tsavorite Garnet mining region and has been a fantastical pipedream for all since its discovery in the country in 1970.
Descriptions of the right color rock, the correct hardness of the surrounding environment, and the color, shape, and size of the crystal vein are shared between gem “folk” and it educates their eyes for their daily work. True gemological and geological education is hard to come by in the area (another Gem Legacy initiative you can learn more about here), but the gem folk of Southern Kenya makes up for it with grit and passion.
The Precious Women, like many of the local Tsavorite Garnet mines, don’t have the correct tools and equipment to mine effectively. 90% of all East African colored gemstone miners are artisanal, and of those, another 80-90% are first farmers and second miners. They mine in the offseason of farming which gives them a second income during the year. They dispute if they are mining farmers or farming miners. Because their first industry is generally farming they use their farming tools to mine: hoes, shovels, picks, axes, and other farming paraphernalia.
When Gem Legacy learned about the Precious Women mine, we were overcome by their dedication and their passion. A tenet of Gem Legacy’s commitment to East Africa is to come alongside those in need and ask what they need and seek to meet them in their need. When asked, Beatrice and Esther explained to us that their two greatest struggles could be solved by a single solution. They needed power to be able to use power tools instead of mining tools and oxygen at the end of the mine to increase the safety of the working conditions and allow the workers to work for longer periods. A compressor would solve both their problems.
Thanks to the generous contributions of Gem Legacy donors, the $9,500 needed was raised in 5 weeks and the compressor was delivered to the mine in less than two months. A Precious Miracle for the Precious Women. Today, they work at a rate of 75% faster than the distance they were able to accomplish working by hand with farming tools. They still haven’t found commercially viable Tsavorite Garnet, but their determination is only fueled by the obstacles they encounter and, without fail, overcome. One day, their reward will be green and they live in faith that that day will come. In the meantime, Gem Legacy continues to support them with food, water, support to have local geologists advise on the progress, and more.
Gem Legacy allows donors to direct where they would like their contributions to be used. To contribute, please visit gemlegacy.org/donate and start your Legacy today.