Behind me I feel a
pair of hands on my shoulders and my backpack sliding down my arms and being
removed...I turn around, surprised...and look into the smiling eyes of
Haruna...The Ghanaian courtesy is nothing strange to him!
"Goodmorning!" he announces, somewhat shy as he neatly puts my bag down in
the workshop and looks at me questioningly. I give him 50 pesewa's with
which he, trotting off on his short legs, immediately goes to buy rice,
mixed with some spaghetti, beans and spicy sauce. He plants himself onto a
stool, eats everything down to the last crumb, now and then commenting
brightly on the day's happenings as the employees prepare the workshop for
Haruna is our newest
employee..around 30 years of age. He has Down Syndrome and has been dropping
into the workshop regularly for a while now, on his daily rounds of the town.
Every time he came by we would chit chat, I'd ask him to help me, gave him
lots of positive attention and compliments but being as busy as he claimed
to be, he would disappear swiftly with the promise of returning the next day..which
he never did.....
One day he stuck around a bit longer and he excelled at cutting. He seemed
to enjoy it! I asked if he wanted to come and work for us, told him we are
so busy we could really do with his help! This time he said: "Okay!!!".
At first he was against the idea of us asking permission from his mother, he
reckoned he could make those choices for himself, but after some gentle
persuasion and logical argument, we were allowed.... His old mother was so
so happy! She worried about him for so long, couldn't get him to commit to
doing anything and had to let him go every morning with the question of when
she would see him again....
A brother told us that Haruna went from funeral to funeral to beg and eat
for free...He would often get drunk on alcohol provided by the musicians, to
then be dumped in his families compound to sleep off his imbibed state....
Obstinate and stubborn as these people can sometimes be, he wanted to do not
much else, up until now....A change is taking place in his life: he has a
job!!! Such a wonderful character, such an amazing human being! We give him
money for food twice a day. In the morning and in the afternoon. Breakfast
only if he is on time and after having been 'confused' a couple of times, he
is now at work on time. Aside from that, he gets 1 Gh.c. to do with as he
pleases. (He enjoys the minty sniffing tobacco and likes chewing on Kola
nuts, a true African tradition).
In addition to this, every Saturday we give his elderly mother 5 Gh.c. on
his behalf..in the way a son or daughter would help their parents here. It
is incredible to see how he's doing! He is smart and very social. He works
all day, his only breaks are for going to pray in the mosque. He sees the
various jobs he has to do on his own and can handle them very well. On top
of all this he has a great sense of humour and brings everybody lots of
happiness. He also relieves me of a lot of odd jobs. And that is why I can
sit here and write this newsletter without any pressure in our beautiful
shop! We hope he succeeds, that would be wonderful!
For more than three weeks
we've had to recruit more help to sew together our ever growing supply of
ice-cream sachets, something we couldn't get round to doing ourselves. An
elderly gentleman, tailor by trade, fearful of taking on too much work due
to his bad health, worked from home at times he was able to. He rested when
he needed to and was able to be on time for his hospital appointments. He
was very happy with this arrangement and able to make his hospital payments
this way for a while! We were happy too because these brightly coloured
ice-cream sachets schoolbags are incredibly popular with the kids and we can
now fulfill the demand!
Once again a film crew has
gathered footage of what we do in the workshop. The national tv-station
VASAT 1 had a lot of interest in the project and made an extensive
documentary. Shortly we shall be able to watch it on the television and
reach lots of people and introduce them to what we do and what the workshop
stands for. At the moment we are not so rushed so we're able to process our
orders at a normal pace after months of enormous pressure. However, we're
preparing for a huge influx once the program has aired on national
Furthermore, we heard through the grapevine that Tamale has been voted
Cleanest City of Ghana 2011! (Least polluted city would make more sense to
me - though less positive, granted- since looking around you, you still
can't believe your eyes at times and then imagine the state other cities are
in...) Nevertheless, at the announcement of this news, the name of the Tuma
Viela workshop was mentioned and this makes us incredibly proud of course!
That we've been able to contribute! We are waiting for an official
announcement, because there was talk of a reward...We will keep you posted!
Three of the five cutters, washers and folders are now very adept at using
the sewing machine. The have a great joy in their work and it has become a
lot more multi-faceted. The other two are still in training, but shall soon
start to rotate and experience a more varied workday. The fact that all of
us have become more all-rounders bears lots of advantages. We don't need to
look for replacements and resolve the shortage ourselves. For instance when
Ayisha had to go to Accra for a week to compete in the Ghanaian
wheelchair-racing championships. She was able to leave without any concerns:
Asana and Humu rotated their folding and washing duties with Ayisha's sewing
duties, and maybe the peace of mind she had, knowing things could carry on
without her, contributed to the fact that she ranked one of the best in the
races! More than likely she will be able to compete internationally!
Fantastic for Ayisha and if she needs to be away for a week here or there, a
team-member can take over her tasks without a problem!
On Saturday morning we have
another young and enthusiastic student behind one of the machines, trying to
master the basics of sewing. It is the 14 year old Lizzy, my daughter, who
together with her brother Faruk, is allowed to help in the workshop on this
day. It has kind of become their Saturday job. Lizzy loves writing the names
in the big book and with this creates a lot of curiosity and admiration from
the children coming to pick up their items. As she is in a wheelchair and on
top of that is deaf, just like her brother Faruk. This means that people are
quick to label you as someone who can't do much...But when the children give
me their names, I translate it to her in sign language and she writes them
down flawlessly. She then jots down the item they want when she sees me make
that particular gesture and also the amount of sachets that have been handed
in...Our secretary!!! Faruk is battling a little bit with Haruna because
both like to cut but Faruk is also extremely adept at folding and sorting
the sachets..something that has proven to be more challenging for Haruna.
Also, when Lizzy can independently operate the sewing machine, Faruk also
wants to learn, which will give him a skill at a young age, something that
is very common here! Last week they had their vacation and helped us more
often, which earned them each a new schoolbag!
And all of a sudden she's
is standing here in front of me again...the girl of the past...She is on the
opening page of our website and in our brochure with a box of water sachets
on her head, flanked by her school friends in bright school uniforms. This
time she has put the sachets in a bucket, one which her stretched out arms
can barely grab...I recognize her immediately, but to be sure I show her the
brochure and she squeals as she sees herself. I've checked and on the 19th
of February of 2010 she handed in her sachets for the first time for a
schoolbag and today, almost 2 years later, she is here again. Her bag is
worn and together with her friend is bringing us 250 sachets for a new bag.
I LOVE this so much! I wave her off with a smile, her new bag around her
shoulders and with the brochure in her hand she waves back....