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Neema Crafts Centre creating an inclusive society for people with disabilities

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.

The vibrant choice of colors and creativity of products is a reflection of the work done at this center

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.

Some of the handmade products on display alongside the sign reading Karibu in Swahili which means Welcome in English

An artist's depiction of the skilled workers at the center.

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.

A skilled artisan working on a tealight holder

The artisans communicate with one another in sign language

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.

Intricately burning and recycling glass to make jewelry

A happy screen printer

The scrumptious meal served at the cafe.

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.

Some of the beautiful pieces made in store

Weaving is seen as a therapeutic activity and one which helps people who have suffered trauma to heal

Josephat was born deaf and with spinal bifida. Deaf people give each other short-hand signs instead of spelling out their names each time. His sign name had been "hunchback" for as long as he could remember. After a few months at Neema, the other deaf trainees changed his sign name to "he is able" because they recognize how skilled he is.

Neema is a Swahili word which means Grace in English

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. 

About the author

Yusra Akif

Yusra is a qualified lawyer and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She has experience working in multiple jurisdictions, including London, Nairobi, and Dubai. Yusra worked for 5 years in the corporate department of a leading law firm in Kenya, with a brief stint in Islamic Finance at a law firm in Dubai. She is the co-founder of a community-based organisation and member of a charitable trust which work towards empowering youth in urban and rural Kenya. She has advised a wide array of local and international NGOs and social enterprises on set-up and regulatory matters. She has always been interested in projects that are innovative, practical and use sustainable means to break the cycle of poverty. This interest motivated her to pursue her master’s degree in Development Studies from SOAS. Her master’s dissertation focused on the social impact sector in Kenya and analyzed whether it is an alternative to aid or a fashionable trend. She is passionate about the social impact sector and is driven by her desire to use her legal knowledge, transferable skills and development background towards making an impact. She is an avid reader and enjoys playing outdoor sports.