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Monday, August 23, 2010

‘The Gem Hunter’ Provides Help to Afghan Gem Industry

American author and humanitarian Gary Bowersox, is in Kabul, Afghanistan, to assist the US government in revitalizing the Afghan gemstone industry while delivering help to Afghan children.  

Bowersox, also known as the “The Gem Hunter,” is leading a trip of 30 Afghan miners and dealers to travel to the Hong Kong Gem & Jewelry Fair (September 14-20).

The project is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), specifically its Afghanistan Small and Medium Enterprise Development (ASMED). It’s a joint effort with Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), a global consulting firm that provides social and economic development solutions. The full acronym for the effort is (Are you ready?): USAID/DAI/ASMED. Bowersox serves as the senior advisor for the gem industry.

Bowersox said most of the miners and dealers have never been outside Afghanistan, have no business background and only a few speak English. “It is a real challenge,” he said.

Bowersox, who lives in Hawaii, has spent the past year visiting the emerald mines in Panjshir Valley and the ruby mines at Jegdalek. In addition, he traveled to the schools in the mining areas as a representative of the Hawaii Kai Rotary International project to furnish school supplies for Afghan children and at the same time delivering eye glasses for the Kamehameha Lions Club. Bowersox is a member of both clubs.

“The poverty these poor children live in would shake anybody with any sense of dignity to their souls,” Bowersox said.

Bowersox said one of the best ways to help the people of Afghanistan is to purchase the country’s gems, which is a legally exported product. Opium is country’s largest illegal export. Among the gems found in Afghanistan are emeralds, tourmaline, spodumene, rubies and lapis lazuli—the country’s best-known gem.

Bowersox has been in the gem business for 40 years. His relationship with Afghanistan is long. In 1976, he received an exclusive license from the Ministry of Commerce of Afghanistan to import lapis-lazuli into the United States. In 1996, the Ministry of Mines and Industry in Kabul, Afghanistan appointed Bowersox as consultant to the ministry. However, continued fighting in Afghanistan has hindered many projects. In 2002, he was the subject in a documentary called The Gem Hunter in Afghanistan, which follows Bowersox from the Peshawar gem market over the high mountain passes of the Hindu Kush, and the steep mountain slopes to the Lapis and the Emerald mines of Afghanistan. He also authored the book about his experiences in Afghanistan called, The Gem Hunter.

Bowersox owns and operates GeoVision, Inc., in Hawaii, where he deals in gems and minerals from many parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Brazil, Burma, India, Kenya, Kazakistan, Kyrgistan, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Thailand.

Caption: Gary Bowersox (right) with the Afghan Minister of Mines H.E. Wahidullah Shahrani.

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