Neema Crafts was started in October 2003 by the Diocese of Ruaha. Its purpose is to provide handicrafts training and employment for deaf and physically disabled people in Iringa region, Tanzania, and also to change negative attitudes towards people with disabilities in the local community. Local employers are invited to see how skilled the workers at Neema Crafts quickly become when given the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The high quality of their work is changing the attitude of local people towards disabled people.
Hand Made Paper Workshop
Neema Crafts was started by Susie Hart, a British woman and herself disabled, who works for the Diocese of Ruaha. She began the Hand Made Paper Workshop, with three young deaf people who were faced with an uncertain future, without hope of further education or employment, due to the stigma attached to their disability. To date there are now over 20 deaf and hard of hearing people working at Neema Crafts. They are taught how to make paper from recycled and natural materials, such as maize husks, pineapple leaves and even elephant dung! They also learn many other skills, including screen-printing techniques and how to construct their hand-made paper into albums, picture frames and cards etc.
Josphat has been profoundly deaf from birth, and was among the first 3 young deaf lads with whom the workshop was started. When he first joined he was a very downcast and short-tempered individual, having suffered years of neglect at the hands of the extended family with whom he lived, his parents having died many years previously. After a few short months training at Neema Crafts Centre, Josphat had become a highly skilled paper-maker, his self-esteem rocketed and the way he expressed himself and interacted with others was utterly transformed. No longer considered a burden by his extended family, he was now able to support himself and contribute to the household income, thus earning their respect at last.
Deaf people give each other short-hand sign names. Due a curvature in his spine Josphat had always been known as 'hunchback'. After a few months working at Neema Crafts the other deaf people at the centre spontaneously changed his sign to 'he is able', as they'd seen that he'd become the most gifted paper-maker in the whole workshop. Thus after years of being made to feel conscious of his shortcomings, his whole identity had literally changed from his disability, to his ability.
This is a lovely illustration of what Neema Crafts Centre is all about; changing negative attitudes towards people with disabilities in the eyes of those around them and also in their own eyes too.