True Blue - The Story of Tanzanite

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Discovered in 1967, tanzanite is found only in a single area of Tanzania, at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in the northern part of the country. The source is located on the traditional land of the Maasai, the indigenous African ethnic group of semi-nomadic people who live in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

As part of an effort to help these people the Tanzanite Foundation was established in 2003. According to its mandate, the organization is committed to “developing, maintaining and communicating confidence in tanzanite’s integrity and gaining stakeholder co-operation in the formalization of an ethical, dynamic tanzanite industry that all stakeholders are proud to be a part of…The Tanzanite Foundation strives to uphold an ethical route to market in accordance with the Tanzanite Tucson Protocols, and invests in meaningful and sustainable “upliftment” projects developed in harmony with indigenous communities in Tanzania.”

Says Gabriella Endlin, operational manager of the Tanzanite Foundation, the organization is “Committed to making a real difference to the lives of communities at tanzanite’s source by contributing to social and economic “upliftment” projects. Our organization empowers indigenous communities to improve their way of life. This principle is based on the belief that through stimulating demand for tanzanite, sustaining the industry’s economic viability and, most importantly, channeling revenues back up the value chain to the source, both Tanzanian communities and the country’s economy will derive significant benefit.”

To do so, Tanzanite Foundation members commit to operate in accordance with legal and ethical employment practices and adhere to strict safety standards across the board. In addition, the Foundation has developed the Small Mines Assistance Program (SMAP), which aims to build relations with small mines in the area by facilitating the transfer of geological, mining and safety guidance as well as providing crisis management assistance.

The Foundation offers a wide-range of programs to help the various communities in the mining area. “The Foundation has made significant investment into grassroots infrastructure programs, creating an environment in which communities can grow and develop in a self-sustaining manner,” says Endlin. “The Maasai people continue to practice their ancient rituals and ceremonies, even in the face of adversities such as drought and flood. For these tall, proud, nomadic people, cattle are sacred, and they work hard to protect them.” To assist them in this task, the Foundation has been providing water to approximately 2,000 villagers and 4,500 heads of cattle daily.

Furthermore, the Foundation has refurbished and expanded the Nasinyai Primary School, which is located in the village adjacent to the tanzanite mining area and educates 420 children. With the help of the Tanzanite Foundation, a secondary school and staff accommodation facilities have been constructed.

Another project in which the Foundation has been involved is the renovation and installation of electricity in a rural medi-clinic, which it continues to support. The organization has also constructed a community centre for the residents of Nasinyai, which is used for social gatherings, community congregations and church meetings for local inhabitants.

The Tanzanite Foundation is also active in environmental activities. It is “committed to the protection and rehabilitation of the mining area environment, initiating the clearing and recycling of scrap materials and debris discarded by previous miners, and encouraging wildlife and prolific birdlife back into the area,” says Endlin.

According to Endlin, the discovery of tanzanite has not really affected the lives of the Maasai people, nor will they be particularly affected when supply of the precious stone runs out – currently estimated to happen in the next 15 years. “The nomadic people focus primarily on the wellbeing of their livestock,” she says. “Tanzanite has in part enhanced their lives, but not necessarily changed [them]. In fact, they are not especially involved in the sourcing of tanzanite as Maasai men prefer not to go underground into the mines; rather they participate in the buying and selling of the stone.” Local Tanzanians though do not share this dislike of the underground and are very involved in the mining process. Tanzanian women, as well as some Maasai women, are involved in the support of the mining operations by making bags and ropes that are used to bring the rough material from the mine up to the surface.

Regarding future social projects, the Tanzanite Foundation already has a list of activities that they hope to initiate. “Our aim is to work with third parties to invest in different projects, such as the school,” says Endlin. “More recently, we are working with one of our manufacturer members on developing an eye-testing program for the locals in the mining region.

Another project involves the jeweler, Stephen Webster, who has worked extensively to produce one-of-a-kind tanzanite jewelry pieces, of which a percentage of proceeds goes towards various “upliftment” projects. Webster has also donated a sum of money to the secondary school, which will fund new beds for the students.

In addition, the Foundation is also researching the possibility of installing “Play Pumps” in the area in which they operate. These are water pumps that are attached to the children’s playgrounds equipment, which will serve to entertain the local children and at the same time pump water to the villages adjacent to the tanzanite mining area.

Source: IDEX Magazine SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2007, ISSUE NUMBER 2009

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