Neema Crafts Centre was started in October 2003 as a project of the Anglican Diocese of Ruaha in Iringa, Tanzania to meet the training and employment needs of the many people with disabilities in the area. In the previous national census 10% of the population nationally was classified as having severe disabilities. The Iringa region had one of the highest rates in the country with rates reaching 15% in some districts and was also one of only a few regions with no projects then in existence to cater for the needs of disabled people.
We carried out a needs analysis of this extremely vulnerable sector of the community. Results from interviews with members of local disability groups and government hospital representatives showed that people with disabilities were excluded from economic, social and cultural development within their society. The majority of people with disabilities in the region were found to be living in extreme poverty and, due to the stigma attached to their disabilities, suffered exclusion from opportunities available to able-bodied people.
Neema Crafts Centre was set up by Susie Hart on behalf of the diocese of Ruaha as a not-for-profit enterprise. Susie is a CMS Mission Partner from the UK who works for the Diocese of Ruaha and is herself partially disabled. Susie continues to run it in the role of Director together with her husband Andy and a team of Tanzanian staff whom they have trained, the long-term goal being to build capacity in these staff until the management of the centre can be handed over to them entirely. Andy joined the management team on a full-time basis in 2009 in the role of Office Manager and Co-Director having been involved part time from early on. CMS mission partners Katie and Ben Ray will replace Susie and Andy Hart in 2012, continuing to work alongside and build capacity in the local staff. Katie and Ben are both talented designers and crafts teachers.
Neema Crafts started with three young deaf men being taught by Susie in one room, a £400 grant from a UK charity and a bag of elephant dung (which they were being taught how to make into hand-made paper). Today the centre has grown from 3 people to 123 deaf and physically disabled workers, who have been trained in a wide variety of different crafts and skills. The running costs have been covered almost entirely by revenue from sales of the goods sold and small donations from visitors and supporters. We have over the years built up an excellent local and overseas market for the products produced at Neema Crafts. This has enabled the core crafts workshops to become financially self-sustainable. (Additional areas such as the Physiotherapy Unit, medical provision for our workers and training courses do require outside funding however).
The three young deaf people who started Neema Crafts with Susie were trained how to make hand-made paper from sustainable resources such as maize leaves, elephant dung and recycled paper. Within the first 12 months the number of deaf people trained and employed at the workshop had risen to 15, and 10 people with physical disabilities had been given training and employment in bead-work. By the end of the second 12 months a weaving workshop and café had been added, and the number of trained employees had risen to over 70 people. In 2007 a micro solar panel workshop, candle-making area and recycled glass bead making workshop were added. 'Neema Crafts Workshop' became 'Neema Crafts Centre for People with Disabilities' and moved to much needed new purpose-built premises in 2009, adding a ceramics workshop, shop and vital physiotherapy department in the process as well as conference facilities, a larger restaurant and an internet café to help boost revenue and draw more visitors into the Centre.
Neema Crafts - Tanzania - Weaving
At the start of 2010, Neema Crafts Centre supports over 100 skilled artisans with disabilities. All participants have been lifted out of extreme poverty and reliance on street begging, to self-sufficiency and a greatly improved level of self-esteem. Public attitudes towards, and perceptions of, people with disabilities are also being positively changed as local visitors to the workshop (who have included high-level local government officials, local policy makers and employers) see how capable people with disabilities are when given the opportunity to reach their full potential. As we have become more well known as a flagship project for disability in Tanzania, we have been able to highlight the issues of disability to a wider audience and have received recognition for this from the Government. In 2008 in the run up to the Beijing Olympics we were honoured by the Government by being selected to receive a visit from the 'Mwenge', the freedom torch and national symbol of Tanzania. All our staff were given the chance to hold the torch. This was an amazing honour, especially when many of our participants had been begging on the streets with no hope in their future when the previous Olympics were held in Athens in 2004.
Neema Crafts - Tanzania
In addition to handicrafts skills, Neema Crafts Centre endeavours to build capacity in its trainees and employees by teaching life skills. These include sessions on HIV Aids Issues, Sexual Education and Health, Hygiene and Preventative Health Care Measures, Malaria-related Issues, Managing Personal Finances etc. Weekly Bible Studies are also offered. For the young deaf participants, many of whom have come to the workshop directly after finishing school, skills such as how to use the Post Office and other essential services are also taught. All trainees / employees are enabled to open their own bank account and encouraged to save a proportion of their salaries. A high percentage of the physically disabled people were denied access to primary education as children because of the stigma attached to their disability, or were unable to travel to school, and were illiterate when they joined the workshop. Literacy classes are provided in the staff room weekly for these participants with the help of volunteer teachers from Iringa International School. Furthermore, Neema Crafts Centre's participants have formed a supportive community within which to assist and network with each other. As a result the individuals within this community have been enabled and empowered to set up their own credit and savings scheme as a group, which they administer themselves. They also have formed a deaf football team and a one legged football team as well as a group who regularly play sitting volleyball. (link to other activities)
Neema Crafts Centre places a great emphasis on environmental sustainability, and uses exclusively locally produced and waste raw materials, which are then recycled at the workshop. For example, the paper-making workshop currently uses waste plant material such as maize leaves and waste paper, valuable resources which are usually burnt. The recycled glass workshop turns bottles and jars, which are currently merely buried or dumped, into beads, tableware and other useful and decorative items, using a low-technology technique which is also environmentally friendly