Disabled artisans make PPE for medics in Tanzania

One Tanzanian woman teaches another at her sewing machine, crutches resting against the wall

Mission unpicked and re-threaded: Sophia teaches Aisha how to make the face masks for Neema Crafts (Photo: Ben and Katy Ray)

Neema Crafts, pioneered and led by Church Mission Society mission partners in Iringa, Tanzania, has joined the worldwide fight against Covid-19 by halting production of their normal popular craft items to focus on manufacturing PPE to equip the country’s hospitals, medical centres and key frontline workers.

The Neema Crafts Centre which is staffed exclusively by men and women with disabilities including deaf and physically disabled people, officially closed its cafe and halted production in its workshops at the beginning of April, because they recognised the devastating impact that the coronavirus could have in Tanzania. The country is not yet under lockdown, although diagnosed cases and recorded deaths are on the rise.

In response, the Neema team is now producing 800 masks, 120 face shields and 50 gowns per week, from the safety of their own homes. With no national health service in Tanzania, the aim is to help protect the lives of front-line workers against Covid-19 as well as supporting the livelihoods of people with disabilities in the Iringa region, as they work from home.

Group of medical staff outside hospital wearing colourful face masks
Medical staff wearing facemasks at a local hospital

Ben and Katy Ray, directors of Neema Crafts and CMS mission partners, said; “We are proud of how the team at Neema Crafts have risen to the challenge of producing PPE. It will ensure our disabled artisans continue to receive an income and it could mean the difference between life and death for hospital workers in our region.”

Ben Ray described the situation locally: “When Covid-19 first hit Tanzania there was a palpable panic amongst members of the public in Iringa. Schools were closed down and as a foreigner I had a few people shout ‘Coronavirus!’ at me. Although no ‘lockdown’ can mean business as normal, people are taking precautions and listening carefully to any government directives. Even in the rural villages people are washing their hands and sitting further apart in church or not moving much outside of their home villages.”

Neema Crafts, which was founded in 2003 in cooperation with the diocese of Ruaha, seeks to change attitudes to disability in Tanzania and provides training and employment opportunities for over 120 people with disabilities in the Iringa region, central Tanzania. There’s a great stigma attached to having a disability in Tanzania, and the centre provides dignity and hope for many people who previously relied on street begging or were hidden away at home.

However, Tanzania as a country faces an uncertain future as the pandemic has severely disrupted tourism, one of the country’s main sources of income. Typically, hospitals have little money to invest in augmenting the most basic supplies but the PPE stocks that Neema Crafts provide will go some way to ensuring that local hospitals are equipped.

Published 6 May 2020

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