Benjamin Chaula (top image) is the manager of our weaving department. He was three when he contracted polio and lost the use of his legs, but his parents were determined to give him a good education, which is why he now speaks good English and is such a respected teacher.
Unfortunately as a disabled person, Benjamin found it very hard to find employment, because people assumed he couldn’t work, so he spent many years repairing shoes. Since coming to Neema, Benjamin has learnt to weave and has proved his doubters wrong. He leads a team of seven weavers to produce our much-loved scarves, bags and other products.
Tanzania produces its own cotton, so we have been able to source locally produced cotton, which we first wind off the reels into hanks. These hanks are then hand-dyed at Neema to our specified colour pallet.
Benjamin Chaula then decides the style and design of the scarves before each individual thread is ‘warped up’ on to our hand or floor looms. The warping-up process can take a whole day depending on how complicated the pattern is. Once the warp is in place the ‘weft’ can then be sent through the vertical warp threads using a shuttle. This shuttle is either passed through by hand (as on the table looms) or catapulted through in a rhythmical motion (as on the larger and more efficient floor looms). While only one scarf is generally produced per day on the table looms up to six can be woven on the floor looms.
Weaving is a great craft to teach people with disabilities as people with a wide range of ability levels can work together. Some looms use hands only, whilst others need the use of one or two legs. Weaving is also a very therapeutic activity and many of the physically disabled workers who come to us have been through immense trauma and suffering in their lives. The process of creating something beautiful by hand, surrounded by others who have similar stories whilst also earning a good wage to support a family, is perhaps one of the best ways for our trainees to gain confidence and dignity again.