Life would have been much tougher if it wasn’t for my education. If I hadn’t have gone to college, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I didn’t go to school initially when I was young because I contracted polio when I was four-years-old. It affected my legs and I went backwards from walking to crawling. I stayed at home for five years as I couldn’t walk at all. It was hard being in the house – I had to be carried if I wanted to go anywhere far and it wasn’t easy to play with friends. It stopped me from growing and being myself.
Although money was difficult, my parents were always as supportive as they could be. Both of them worked and when I got to the age of nine, they had saved enough money for me to go to the Disabled Salvation School in Dar Es Salaam, where I ended up staying until I was 18-years-old. I enjoyed my time there and I have happy memories, but I missed my family an awful lot. I only went home once a year at Christmas because of the cost of the long journey. But when I did make it home, we always made sure we made the most of our time together. I have two brothers and six sisters and I used to love coming to see them. They have always supported me.
When I completed Standard Seven at school, I returned home to Iringa and applied for a special tailoring course for the disabled at a local college. The course lasted two years and by the end, I had my own business at home making sheets and tablecloths. The money was just enough to get me by and after a year of doing this, I joined a local disabled support group called Chavata, which had connections with the course. We made items together in a group and it was a fairly successful venture. I enjoyed it and it was positive to work with others, but after two years the leaders decided they wanted to leave and took our equipment with them. It was sad and I was frustrated because I was left with the problem of having to start up my own business again.
I worked at home for another two years and during this period, managed to get some money together to travel up to Moshi to the Mission Hospital there, where I could go to get callipers fitted. One of my sisters also helped me with the money and when I got them, I was delighted. I’m still using them now. Before this, I was crawling or in a wheelchair.
I lived with my sister for two years then and continued working. This was when I became pregnant with my first child, who I had in 1990. In 2005, I decided I’d like to work at Neema because of the good support I heard was on offer. I had two children by this stage and two elderly parents to provide for. I went straight into the weaving workshop where I started making scarves, blankets and bags. Now I am putting my tailoring knowledge to good use making beautiful dolls that are sold in the shop.
I love my work here and have learnt many new skills. I have the confidence that I can do many things for myself now. I enough have money for transport, for my children and for looking after my 77-year-old mother. I’m safe in the knowledge I have a future here and I can plan ahead money-wise. Having my own business was a big challenge, but here I know me and my family are secure.