In Part I, we shared how we work to promote and support initiatives that give back to artisanal and small-scale mining communities. As we face the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19, efforts to ensure that we meet the needs of miners and those in their communities are more important than ever.
Small-scale and artisanal miners produce much of the world’s gold and colored gemstones. These miners are often in financially vulnerable situations and rely on trade to meet their daily needs. The spread of COVID-19 has stalled the economy and our supply chains, making this work especially challenging. In this second story, we’ll share more about the experience of artisanal gemstone miners and how Gem Legacy is responding to this crisis.
Speaking to us from Arusha, Tanzania, Rachel Dery of Gem Legacy gave us an idea of the severe plight artisanal miners are facing in the areas where the organization works, as well as lessons on community in times of crisis inspired by African tradition.
Under more normal circumstances, Gem Legacy focuses its efforts on supporting vulnerable populations in the areas of children, health, and entrepreneurship — making donations based on needs identified by community stakeholders. 2020 was intended to be a year focused on health initiatives. In the face of the current global pandemic, Gem Legacy is committed to targeted relief in food security for children and sanitation.
With the COVID outbreak beginning in China and making its way across the globe, artisanal miners in East Africa, and likely almost everywhere, have been experiencing a depression in sales since international buyers stopped traveling in early January. Now, there is just one month before the rainy season begins in East Africa, which will last from April through June. This means that thousands of artisanal miners could be unable to generate income for more than 6 months.
While many of us in the U.S. spent the first few weeks of this crisis stocking up on supplies, that was not an option for many of those who support their livelihood on a day-to-day basis. Miners are often paid only once they hit production, which means finding gemstones. The stones are sold from the mine owner to brokers, who meet with buyers on a daily or weekly basis. Once the stone or stones are sold, the miner will receive pay.
Now that trading has halted, a vital source of income for miners and their families is no longer available. COVID-19 has caused most families the loss of one or two incomes if they are city-dwelling families who are unable to depend on farming for their daily food, according to Rachel.
Meeting daily needs is one thing; addressing a global pandemic is a whole other beast. In seeking to support the most vulnerable populations amid this crisis, Gem Legacy has focused its efforts on food security for children. The organization is currently working with schools in Tanzania and a children’s home in southern Kenya. In response to COVID-19, Rachel has been spending her days weighing rice, beans, and salt to provide food to schoolchildren. A donation of $25 is enough to provide enough food for one child for a month; however, the level of need is significant.
Another consideration is that many artisanal mining communities have fragile healthcare systems that are not equipped to manage a health crisis. While handwashing is essential to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, regular supplies of soap and water are inaccessible for significant portions of people. Gem Legacy is working to address this by providing water and soap for handwashing, as well as CDC guidelines for protection written in Swahili at the mining hubs.
Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable during a global crisis is an incredibly difficult task. Rachel also shared some lessons learned from artisanal and small-scale mining communities, which all of us can benefit from.
The first is the beauty of the concept of community within the populations they work with. As Rachel put it, hailing from long traditions of community-style living, many of the people that Gem Legacy works with embody an attitude of protection and support for one another and work toward collective benefit. The well-being of one person relates to the well-being of all. In this time when we need to rely on each other more than ever, it can benefit us all to see the merit of community-centered decision-making.
The second lesson is one of truly appreciating the rarity of colored gemstones. These are precious materials, not meant to be mass-produced. Working with miners who labor for days and weeks to find beautiful material puts into context just how special these gems are.
“Gems have been changing lives for centuries; they have brought income for families since the beginning of mining,” Rachel said. “Gem Legacy is able to come in and support the marginalized in mining communities where gems already exponentially impact the local economy and local families, and holistically change their lives for the better. [We are] able to extend that impact to the marginalized, including women, orphans, and the disabled.”
Robert Goodman Jewelers is a business centered on people. From our local community to those at the foundation of the jewelry industry, we aim to support one another and celebrate the work that goes into making our heirlooms possible. The miners who provide colored gemstones, their families, and their communities are all a part of making our business what it is. We are grateful to Gem Legacy for their invaluable work in these areas, particularly at this time. You can support Gem Legacy by making a donation to the organization. For Robert Goodman Jewelers customers, we will contribute a portion of each purchase of jewelry made with Anza gemstones to Gem Legacy’s work.
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