In a league of their own

Deaf soccer champions are changing how people perceive disability in Tanzania

Footballers in action with Tanzanian mountain backdrop
The Neema Crafts team in action in a village called Image, captured by CMS short term mission partner Malcolm Crawford.

The Neema Crafts football team, all of whom are deaf, recently won a match 3-0 against a hearing team in a village called Image.

As sweet as that victory was, the real triumph was showing villagers how disabled people can contribute to their communities.

Allen, Neema’s team captain, says that from an early age, the chance to play football gave him much-needed confidence.

After attending a good primary school for deaf children, Allen wanted to go to secondary school. He ended up being enrolled in a technical school where “no-one thought I could do much because I was deaf.”

“I used to cry a lot at night as I felt really isolated,” Allen said. Then one day he was invited to play football with the senior boys.

“Everyone was amazed when they saw me play so well and I made friends with someone from two years above who helped to look after me.”

After completing his GCSEs, Allen started working at Neema Crafts, which exclusively trains and employs deaf and disabled people.

Thanks to this job, he earned money to help pay for his mum’s hospital bills until she recovered from a serious illness.

At Neema, Allen found more than a job; he also found faith and was later baptised at a Neema staff retreat.

Part of Neema’s mission is to challenge prevailing attitudes toward disability in Tanzania. Every month or so, Neema staff take the football team to visit a different village church to demonstrate to church members and the local community that deaf and disabled people are highly capable. Then they play a local team. 

“Communication on the pitch is obviously more of a challenge between deaf footballers, but despite this disadvantage the team has fared very well against hearing sides,” say Ben and Katy Ray, CMS mission partners who lead Neema Crafts.

Founded in 2003 by CMS mission partner Susie Hart and the diocese of Ruaha, Neema has now trained and employed more than 120 deaf and disabled people in a variety of skills including craftmaking and hospitality. Allen is the kitchen manager at Neema’s renowned cafe.

“Neema has helped so many deaf people, you don’t see any begging on the streets of Iringa anymore because Neema has employed them,” Allen said.

Published 31 May 2019

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