Ever wondered what a more inclusive society would look like? It looks a bit like the world created by Neema Crafts Centre, a social enterprise founded in 2003 with the mission to train and provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities.
During a day off from my Kiva Fellowship, I had the opportunity to visit the Neema Crafts Centre. The Centre is nestled away in a beautiful town called Iringa. Iringa is located in Tanzania and sits on a clifftop overlooking the Ruaha River valley. Susie Hart founded Neema Crafts in 2003. Over time, it has become more than just a place of work. Now it's a thriving community that acts as a beacon of hope for the rest of the town.
The Neema Centre demonstrates that by believing in people, we have the power to transform lives and to provide people with the dignity to fulfill their individual potential. This, in turn, creates a supportive and loving environment for the entire community. Over 100 people with disabilities are employed by the center as artisans, carpenters, tailors, paper-makers and chefs. I was excited to get a guided tour of the center's workshop, which is an experience offered to all its visitors. I gladly took this opportunity to interact with the staff, all of whom were always smiling and happy to show me the product they were so skilfully creating.
The artisans in the center make a variety of products including jewelry, tailormade dresses, washbags, handwoven tablemats and even recycled paper (from maize leaves and cow dung! Yes, you read it right) which is converted into notebooks. Others hone their carpentry skills while making lampshades. You name it, they make it. I was impressed with the skill and hard work each of them put into their work. Truly a heart-warming and inspiring experience.
I tried a burger and milkshake from the center's extensive café menu. It was one of the best burgers I've ever had. Besides the taste, I also loved the experience. The server, Shukuru, used sign language and encouraged me to communicate with him using a notebook. That made it even more special.
As I walked through the center and observed the artisans at work, I could feel the presence of a strong community working together to support one another. The center helps break down barriers and create inclusivity. It reminded me of the Kiva Lenders Community, where people come together to pool resources in order to uplift the lives of others. My visit to Neema Crafts Centre has definitely been a highlight of my Kiva Fellowship experience and one that has left a lasting impression and impact on me.