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TIJT teachers will spend the summer in Sri Lanka

Published or Revised July 15, 2005

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Tony Underwood, left, and Harrel Harrison, both certified master bench jewelers and instructors at PJC’s Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, jumped at the opportunity to teach modern jewelry techniques in Sri Lanka, home to most of the world’s colored gemstones.

Despite the horrific destruction wrought on Sri Lanka by the December 2004 tsunami, the island nation off the southeastern coast of India will always be The Jewel of the Indian Ocean for Tony Underwood. And for a very good reason.

“It’s the primary source for all colored gemstones on the planet. It’s the most ancient source for all colored gemstones: turmalines, topaz, the garnets, sapphires, rubies,” said Underwood, a gemologist, certified master bench jeweler, and instructor at Paris Junior College’s Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology. “If you’re not sure of where a gemstone comes from, you can say Sri Lanka and get it right about 99 percent of the time.”

Sri Lanka likely will hold a place even closer to the hearts of Underwood and fellow TIJT instructor Harrel Harrison after this summer. The two are scheduled to leave July 11 to spend several weeks as guest instructors at the Gem & Jewelry Institute of Sri Lanka, helping bring modern techniques to the island’s gem and jewelry industry.

The director of the institute contacted Underwood during a meeting of the American Gem Trade Association in Tucson in February and asked if he would be interested in providing specialized training at the school. Underwood jumped at the chance and quickly recruited Harrison, also a certified master bench jeweler.

Harrison also didn’t hesitate. “The whole concept of travel and being able to educate people in another land,” Harrison said with a smile.

“Having knowledge of them being a major supplier of colored gemstones was a major factor in my getting excited about going,” said Underwood. “It’s not Third World in the sense of gemology.”

Last year’s tsunami struck the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, but Underwood and Harrison will teach in Colombo, the nation’s capital, located on the island’s west coast.

Negotiations over the course’s length and curriculum continued as late as Thursday, said Underwood. “We’ve gone down to two weeks, up to four weeks, back down to three and a half, up to six weeks and back to four. So this is an ongoing project.”

Underwood, who has “been on the phone every other night for the past month” working out the trip’s details, guessed the two would be in Sri Lanka for four to six weeks.

The two have already shipped molds and other instructional material to Sri Lanka for classroom use.

The program is coordinated through Nathan & Associates, an Arlington, Va., consulting firm, and is part of The Competitiveness Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While the trip isn’t officially connected to PJC or TIJT, Underwood hopes the relationships he and Harrison form while there lead to ties between the schools.

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