For Tanzania disabled workers, innovative art is the name of the game By LUDGER KASUMUNI for The Citizen | Friday, January 25  2013 at  10:56

One of the workers at Wonder Workshop, a Tanzania-based NGO that employs disabled workers to make innovative art products from solid waste. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Under normal circumstances, we rarely give much thought to solid waste, seeing it as a pollutant and of environmental concern. But a Tanzanian not-for-profit, Wonder Workshop, has come up with a novel idea to turn such waste into valuable commodities, and employs mainly workers with disabilities to do this.

Wonder Workshop's workers are converting discarded scrap metal, paper, boxes, plastics and glass materials into attractive items, such as innovative art, for sale.

Project manager Lisette Westerhuis told Tanzanian daily The Citizen that the workshop had employed people with disabilities to develop a wide range of artistic materials from waste.

“We use scrap metals, boxes, bottles, papers and banana leaves that are either normally thrown away or left to rot,” she said.

"Companies and individuals bring solid waste to us. The companies include Nampak, TBL, Toyota Tanzania, Scania and Kilombero Teak Company. There are also hotels such as Hyatt, which give used bottles to us.”

Wonder Workshop has 42 enthusiastic men and women with disabilities.

"We offer a range of paper products made from used paper, used boxes and natural fibres, wooden toys and household items from cut-off pieces of Tanzanian hard wood, to soap and candles scented with natural oils from Zanzibar and jewellery made from glass beads using bottles and old window panes," said Ms Westerhuis.

"We are also very experienced in making customised orders and exclusive art pieces. In addition to the sales in our own on-site shop, many of our items are sold in the main tourist destinations in Tanzania, as well as abroad."

Diversified

The workshop was started in 2005 as Wonder Welders by a group of adult polio victims, many of whom were begging on the streets of Dar es Salaam.

They came together with help from Blue Mango Photography funds from the Dar es Salaam Charity Goat Races and support from companies in Dar es Salaam that provided scrap metal.

Initially it mainly specialised in welded works before diversifying into new disciplines.

"Since then we have gone from strength to strength and are now training more and more disabled Tanzanians to create unique artworks.

"We are self-sustainable through our product sales with some welcome donations assisting in expansion of the project,” she said.

The workers are normally busiest during the end of the year because they receive many orders from the customers.

"During the end of the year many people want to purchase gifts for their families or friends. We work very hard during this period. At the end of the year a lot of individuals and companies want gifts,” she said.

For the workers, a chance to shine in life is all they have ever wanted.