Neema Crafts Center and café in Iringa, Southern Highlands of Tanzania, create employment opportunities for disabled and deaf people, at the same time working against social stigma. After nine years running, the project have made great expansions, now offering high quality handicrafts, a mouthwatering café, a great stay at their hostel, physiotherapy and much more. It is great to see the developments since I was here last time six years ago.
Back in Iringa and back at Neema Crafts! Neema Crafts Center started out in 2003 by the local Anglican Church as a project for creating employment opportunities for disabled and deaf persons through making handicrafts. In a few years it expanded to compromise a huge workshop where disabled people created various top notch handicrafts out of textile, beads and paper made of elephant dung (among other things). In connection to the workshop there were also a shop and a café, at the café deaf young people got employment opportunities. When I was in Iringa the last time around 2006 me and my friends spend a lot of time at Neemas café when we were in town, even had most of our project meetings there. It was a nice hangout spot with both Tanzanian and European food at very reasonably prices (=very cheap). The coffee served was the best in the whole Southern Highlands regions!
Now it is 2012 and I am back in Iringa and happy to see that the most essential parts of the old menu (the coffee cake!) is still there at the new extended one. In other parts a lot has changed at Neema. They have moved to a new big building and extended the service to also running a hostel. The café is more than twice the size here and instead of being seated over an “indoor balcony” towards the workshop (which too was really nice) there is now a huge balcony towards the streets with a nice mountain view. Most products are made from locally and organically grown vegetables, teas and coffee. Here you can get most things: the guy at the table next to me just had a chocolate milkshake together with the traditional beans & rice!
The workshops are extended and a lot of new things can be found in the shop, like clay works. There are also a physiotherapist unit serving mostly disabled children in town, busy weeks they see as many as 5-7 children a day, many of them with cerebral pares. The aim for the future is to through early physiotherapy lessen the amount of children with severe disabilities. Today as many as 10-15 % of the adult population have different types of physical disabilities, many caused by polio and other diseases, accidents and also expired or fake medicines. They face a hard life in the Tanzanian society where unemployment rates are high and most opportunities for getting food or a little salary is through hard physical work. Social stigma in connection to misbelieves around disabilities make life even more difficult.
Neema Crafts and all projects around it have made great achievements in creating social dignity and a way to earn a fair salary for people who otherwise would be living outside of society. They are nowadays also getting new respect from the government after proving for many years that disabled people CAN.
It is also a great example of success for Business4Development as the incomes from hostel, café, handicrafts shop and other (you can buy massage or counseling at the physiotherapy center or have seminars at the conference facilities) are used to develop new parts of the project and make it all sustainable. Also, I think that the fact that the employees are paid good salaries is something for Swedish projects for disabled persons to consider! Way too often I hear of disabled in Sweden being paid only some mini-wage set by the municipallies.
You can also follow me on my own blogg jobergsten.wordpress.com where I write about my current field studies about how youth in rural parts of Tanzania use mobile phones and Internet.