Life Lessons from Okeno

Gem Culture, Gem Journal

Sometimes, when you meet someone truly special, the lessons they teach you are fundamental for how you live your life long after they’ve left. I’m looking back on two years since my dear friend, mentor, guide, and advocate left us for the fluffy clouds and blue skies over East Africa. The things he taught me ring truer today than ever before. They’re things you can only learn from watching another’s life up close and seeing something you want to replicate in yourself. I’m pondering a few things I’m still learning from Okeno today. I hope his view over the East African landscape is breathtaking.


1. Relationships aren’t built in a day.

Okeno spent decades building connections and investing in people. His hope for the future of East Africa rested on sharing knowledge, investing time, and giving trust – all things you can’t do in a day. I hope I carry on that legacy of hope by continuing the relationships he shared with me and investing in the people of East Africa.


Okeno – Credit: Ernie Rodriguez Photography


2. Education has always been and always will be the way forward.

Okeno believed education is the great horizon opener and the ultimate opportunity for progress. He led by example and managed his mine in a way that made his miners able to send their children to school. I am honored to contine that endeavor by supporting elementary schools, orphanages, faceting schools, gemological training, and scholarships in East Africa.


Okeno dancing (2) from Roger Dery on Vimeo.


3. New ideas are the future.

As humans, we like to think that our way, idea, or plan is best. Okeno was an advocate of the untested idea and an activist for change. To him, no progress can come if we don’t share ideas and maintain an open mind. This philosophy has stayed with me in all of our relationships and efforts in East Africa. Change is communal because shared ideas are the catalyst behind change.


Roger and Okeno with Maasai tribesman

Here’s to old friends who lead the way to new friends, new ideas, and new paths!