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From: Disability – Footsteps 49

Towards greater inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life

by Susie Hart.

In 1997 I spent three months at a L’Arche community in Kampala, Uganda. L’Arche is a Christian organisation that provides a lifelong family environment for people with learning difficulties, living together with one another and their carers. Many of their communities have craft workshops to provide income and useful activities for their members. When I arrived, equipped only with a small bag of candle making equipment, I found to my dismay there was no workshop and I was expected to start one!

I searched Kampala for improvised equipment and raw materials. I taught candle making to the residents and trained two of the staff and found local markets for the candles produced.

We devised various aids to help those with physical disabilities to participate as much as possible. However because candle making involves hot wax, some community members had to be excluded. The raw materials for the candles were expensive and had to be imported from Nairobi. This meant our products were usually restricted to more expensive retail outlets providing for tourists. These concerns encouraged me to identify a craft that allowed all community members to participate and which used readily available, cheap, local materials.

I found the answer in handmade paper products using the troublesome water hyacinth (a weed that spreads rapidly in fresh water). The plant was freely available for anyone to collect. The process of making paper from plant materials is simple, but involves various stages, each requiring different skills. This made it ideal, as each community member at L’Arche was able to participate in at least one of the stages. There were several weeks of experimentation with water hyacinth before we began to develop good quality paper. Sadly this work has now been discontinued, though groups elsewhere successfully produce good quality products using water hyacinth.

However the candle workshop is still doing well and expanding. It provides a significant income for the community in Kampala. Considering the short time available for planning and establishing the work, maybe its success should be seen as the power of prayer! Many lessons can be learnt from these experiences however. Some are suggested below for any other group considering setting up such a project.

Planning

Participants

Marketing

Raw materials

Skills

Susie Hart is trained in textiles and has experience of working with craft workshops for people with disabilities in both UK and Africa. Her address is: c/o Crowther Hall, Weoley Park Road, Sellyoak, Birmingham, B29 6QT, UK.
E-mail: andythevet90@hotmail.com

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