I have to talk about one of my favorite parts of my trip to Tanzania. One of the "touristy" shops we stopped at was called Shanga. Shanga, which got its name from the Swahili word for "bead," is a store in Arusha, Tanzania that employs people with various types of disabilities. The store sells a large variety of things, ranging from jewelry to glassware, and everything in between.
Most of the products are made right behind the store itself. Upon our first visit, we were given a tour. There were a variety of stations, from beadwork to sewing to glass blowing. We were able to learn some Swahili Sign Language, so we were able to say "hello" and "thank you" to the workers who were deaf. The tour then ended at the store, where we stayed for quite a long time looking at and purchasing the items (there was SO much to see!).
A few days later, some members form my group wanted to go back to Shanga and learn some more. We were able to meet with one of managers of it, learn more about the history and ask some questions. Shanga started employing people with disabilities after the founder, Saskia Rechsteine, asked a deaf woman who worked at the coffee estate where she lived to help her make her products. She then saw an opportunity to provide an income for this woman, and wanted to help more people with disabilities. Since then, Shanga has employed more than 45 people with disabilities in Tanzania.
There were many reasons why I liked this place so much. Obviously, I loved that their focus was on employing people with disabilities. They believe that by giving these people the skills to produce a desired product, they will be gaining respect in their community, which unfortunately would otherwise look down upon them. I also liked that there was a wide range of disabilities amongst the workers. While many were deaf, there were also many with physical disabilities and some with intellectual disabilities as well.
I also liked that all of their material is recycled. All of the cloths that are used for the necklaces are scraps from kangas (garments that can be used for clothing, table cloths, etc.), and all of their glass beads are recycled wine bottles from local restaurants. I thought that this was especially neat!
Lastly, I love the respect they have for their workers. All of the workers start at a wage that is above minimum wage, with the opportunity of it to increase over time. Also, through the work of the Shanga Foundation, they are able to continuously provide assistance to their workers. This foundation has been able to provide new medical equipment for their workers, such as wheelchairs, while also providing classes for other people with disabilities that they wouldn't be able to employ. I thought this was great because even though Shanga is not able to employ every person with a disability in Tanzania, they are still reaching out to the larger community.
Overall, this is a VERY cool place. If you're interested in learning more, or even ordering a product, here is the link to their website!
P.S. Here are some pictures of Shanga. We were given permission to take photos!