Home News Supporting African Gem Mining Communities through Travel: The Gem Legacy Adventures

Supporting African Gem Mining Communities through Travel: The Gem Legacy Adventures

by Madonna

Rachel Merisheki, the Executive Director of Gem Legacy, a Detroit-based nonprofit dedicated to fostering vocational training, entrepreneurship, and community development in East African artisanal gem mining communities, wants donors to know that their contributions have a direct and profound impact. “One hundred percent of our donations go directly to our initiative,” she emphasizes. “We don’t take any fees. To grow, we had to make some changes since the initial funding from our board members couldn’t cover everything. Even basic expenses like printing business cards and domain name fees became challenging.”

To address these administrative costs, the nonprofit, founded by Rachel’s father, gem dealer Roger Dery, five years ago, introduced a novel approach. They launched a for-profit company, Gem Legacy Adventures, which offers unique annual excursions to Kenya and Tanzania. These trips allow participants to explore mines and community development projects while contributing to the nonprofit’s mission.


Rachel Merisheki explains the motivation behind this innovative concept, saying, “The goal was to fund the nonprofit but kind of kill two birds with one stone. As we looked at our donor list, 80 percent of our top donors have all traveled to East Africa and experienced the mining regions. We decided we’d build more passionate donors if they had the opportunity to see everything firsthand.”


The first Gem Legacy Adventure took place in the summer of 2022, with another successful trip completed in August. Plans are already in place for a third excursion from August 3-13, 2024, as the organization works around trade show schedules and regional weather patterns.


These journeys offer a unique perspective on East Africa and the gem mining communities. Rachel Merisheki explains, “A lot of people are like, Africa? Is it scary? Is it dangerous? We walk you through everything: what to pack, what not to pack, cultural norms, how to greet people. It’s a very, very different culture. You’ll have some eye-opening moments. The credibility you have when you can say, ‘I’ve actually been to a colored gemstone mine, here are the challenges, here’s what they’re really good at.’ The miners love their work, and it invigorates people who’ve been in the industry for decades. And now you have this story to tell about a place you’ve seen firsthand. You can be part of that conversation about where colored gemstones come from and the positive impact they have.”

Each trip varies in its itinerary, but they typically span 10 days, commencing in Nairobi, leading to Voi, crossing the border into Tanzania, and concluding in Arusha, with departures out of Kilimanjaro. The goal is to give participants a firsthand experience of what it’s like to collaborate with Gem Legacy.

“We want it to feel as organic as possible,” says Merisheki. “This summer we delivered toolkits to mines. There’s a fine line between supporting a mine and investing in a mine. We work really hard to find the right mines that need this kind of support. We tell them, ‘This is a gift, no strings attached.'”

A typical itinerary features approximately eight mine visits, including various locations in Kenya, a visit to the ruby mining area near Voi, and a tanzanite mine. Additionally, the drives between locations often transform into impromptu wildlife safaris due to the abundant wildlife in the region, including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

In addition to mine visits, the trips also include visits to community development initiatives. These initiatives involve a school in southern Kenya serving about 40 children, as well as a primary school in Tanzania that provides breakfast and lunch to approximately 900 students, many of whom are the children of ruby miners. These meal programs have had a remarkable impact, motivating parents to send their children to school, keep them there throughout the day, and ultimately leading to a significant increase in the passing rate.

Participating in a Gem Legacy Adventure costs $4,850 for a single accommodation and $4,400 for a double, excluding airfare, alcohol, gifts, visas, immunizations, and tips. While the accommodations may not be five-star resorts, they are clean and comfortable. Each trip accommodates up to 14 participants, with seven spots currently available for the August 2024 excursion. Those who wish to join a Gem Legacy Adventure do not need to be industry professionals but are required to make a $1,000 donation to Gem Legacy within 18 months of the trip’s start.

Rachel Merisheki sums up the participation criteria, saying, “We want people who are invested in it and are respectful of what we’re doing.” The Gem Legacy Adventures offer a unique blend of exploration and philanthropy, allowing participants to witness the impact of their contributions firsthand and share their experiences with others in the industry.


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