Behind every piece of jewelry is a long supply chain. Often, it starts with a miner – the person who collected the gold for the band around your finger or dug from the earth the diamond that dangles around your neck. If you’re wearing a colored gemstone – a ruby, a sapphire, a garnet, an emerald – it likely was mined by an artisanal or small-scale miner, as the vast majority of gemstones come from ASM sources. Do you know who that miner is? Does she mine legally? Does he use safety equipment? Was she paid fairly? Pact, which works to improve the lives of small-scale miners around the globe through its Mines to Markets program, wants the answer to all of those questions to be yes. It’s why Pact began Moyo Gems, an ethical gems program being piloted in Tanzania’s gemstone-rich Umba Valley. With the Tanzania Women Miners Association (TAWOMA) and Moyo partners ANZA Gems and Nineteen48, Pact is creating a new ethical gemstone supply chain that is helping women miners in Umba to mine legally, to work more safely, to improve their gem and market skills, to raise their incomes, and to be recognized for the arduous work that makes consumers’ jewelry possible. Meet some of the miners with whom Pact is building this new future.
Raheli, who is 60, comes from a long line of pastoralists. But as rainy seasons have become shorter and more intense, she says, raising animals and crops has become harder. So about four years ago, she began mining. “Right now, our production is good,” she says. Raheli lives with three of her grandchildren and uses her mining income to help pay for their schooling. “I work hard for my family,” she says.
At 46, Ziada has been mining for two decades. “It’s the only work I’ve known,” she says. She has three children. After her husband died, she became her family’s only breadwinner, making her work even more important. She mines every day except Fridays. Is it enough to meet needs? “I try my best,” Ziada answers. As her income slowly rises, she plans to invest in her business. Right now, she mines using only basic tools – a stake, hammer and shovel. “With better equipment, my mining will improve,” she says.
Theresia began mining about 20 years ago when she saw it was helping others in her village get ahead. She lost her husband soon after. A mother of four – two sons and two daughters – she says she doesn’t know what she’d have done if not for her mining income. She also raises animals and makes and sells jewelry. Today, Theresia, who is 50, mines with a handful of others on a claim they secured as a group. Selling their gemstones for fair prices has been their biggest challenge, but Moyo Gems is changing that, Theresia says. “I will be mining more now,” she says.
Fatuma is a new miner. She began just last summer. At 53, she’d always been a farmer, but it was a struggle to get by, so when she discovered her land held almandine, a species of garnet, it was an easy decision to begin digging. Her biggest challenge has been obtaining capital to invest in equipment and labor. She was able to get a small loan, but she says earning more will help her improve her operation and produce more valuable gems. Fatuma dreams of making enough to rebuild her small house, purchase a motorbike for transportation, and help her two grown children support their families. Her daughter is a tailor and her son a farmer. “From mining, I hope my children can have a better life, too,” she says.
Like many women miners, Sauda says her children are the reason she mines. She has three daughters. Farming wasn’t enough to cover their basic needs. With mining, she makes more. She's been doing it for about two years and says food, clothing and medical care are all easier to afford now. The site where she mines is about three hours away from their home by foot. She usually stays at the mine for three or four days at a time, camping there with other miners. “It is hard to be away from home,” she says, but being able to provide for her girls is worth it.
For 23 years, Eunice was a primary school teacher. To earn extra income during holiday breaks, she began trading locally mined gemstones, and then began mining herself, including gold and amethyst. Today, she owns land where feldspar is mined. She also dedicates much of her time to advocating for other women miners through TAWOMA. She became the association’s Tanga regional head in 2001 and has served as TAWOMA’s chairperson since 2007. Across Tanzania, TAWOMA has about 3,300 members. Eunice says her hope for them is a safer, more prosperous future. An aspiration she has for TAWOMA is to build a permanent training college for miners. “For now this is just a dream,” she says, “in the very early stages.”
Asha has been mining for three years. Before, she farmed, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She saw that miners in her community were earning more, so she decided to try. With a crew that she employs to work her claim with her, she usually mines five days a week. She acknowledges that the work is extremely difficult, but she says the deeper they dig, the better the gems get. She knows the big stone that will change her life is waiting for her. “I just want to live a good life,” she says.
The most powerful thing any consumer or designer can do to support women miners is to buy their gemstones and adore the jewelry that comes from this beautiful source. Consumers can ask their favorite jewelers and designers to carry Moyo Gems. This can send a powerful signal to jewelry makers large and small for a new standard of beauty, ethics and full empowerment in the industry. You can also help us do even more locally in Tanzania and Kenya by contributing to Moyo Gems. Donations will go to economic strengthening programs, additional technical assistance in mining and other services.
Pact is a US-based nonprofit organization with 501c3 status, and with charitable status in the UK as well as all countries where we implement programming. Donate online here. (Donations will appear as "Network for Good")
Check out our media page that lists a collection of articles about our program.
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We used only miners' first names in this stories above for their security.
Photos by Michael Goima for Pact. Words by Corinne Reilly
Mary, greeen tourmaline miner, Tanga Tanzania
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