Newsletter July 2013
Tuma Viela

I see him grinning shyly from underneath his dingy cap as soon as I get to the workshop. It's before seven and I really thought I'd be the first one in, but Yabuku beat me to it. 'Hey, how are you?' 'Fine,' he answers softly. 'Can I take a shower, please?' 'Of course, come in.' I can see his pockets bulging with things that have no value to me, but to him are priceless treasures. I carefully take of his cap -a different one every day, depending on what he managed to get a hold of in the streets- and hold it out to him, smiling encouragingly. He reluctantly lets go of his treasures for a couple of minutes by putting them in his cap one by one, so he can take a bucket shower at the workshop. I notice empty instant coffee sachets that still smell of coffee if you take a good whiff, a bolt, a broken strap from a wrist watch, a photograph of a child, a spoon, a CD... Yuck! A dead mouse. Bottle caps, keys, a razor blade... and many more things. When Sakpalana, our colleague, arrives, Yabuku gets some help with washing and brushing his teeth. He doesn't know how to do that properly. Hamdia collects the dirty clothes she'll be washing for him today and I take out the clothes he left with us yesterday, all nice and clean again now. After a while, Yakubu enters the workshop, squeaky clean, and I see him sniff his clean shirt, well pleased. After taking a long time to choose, he puts the most important treasures back in his pockets, leaving the rest behind with a sigh. He comes to sit with us and we give him some food or some money to buy food himself. Sometimes he asks if he can sleep a while after having eaten. On those days, he contentedly rolls out his mat on the veranda, where he can rest for hours, his cap pulled down over his eyes. Today, however, he disappears after a while to spend another day and night straying, begging and foraging for new treasures and food. And every day you see him go, you hope he'll be back the next day. Yabuku: a very special young man.

It may seem like we're terribly busy, day in, day out, just with producing all those popular items we make, but our workshop has over the past few years -unintentionally but to our pleasure- turned out to be a spot where much more takes place. Of course it's wonderful that we handed our 25.000th item to a child this month. But the social function that our workshop has slowly started to fulfil in this neighbourhood is just as satisfying. In addition to producing things, contributing something to the environment and educating people, is great to also be able to do something for those of us who seem to always miss the boat and to meet ordinary, special people.

Take 13-year-old Sharif. He's been coming in every morning from that one time he came to hand in sachets for a school bag. Haruna knew him and immediately sat him down on a stool next to him. Sharif immediately started to help by untying the pieces of string, rubber bands and strips of cloth children use to tie the sachets together in bundles of ten. This isn't easy for him, because Sharif is very spastic. That also affects his ability to speak, so he can't go to school. In the mornings, he helps Haruna or enjoys himself by playing with the toy building blocks. At lunchtime, he returns home to play with his brothers and friends, who have then returned from school. It makes him happy if Lizzy's there, because she's his great friend. He can sit next to her for hours on end, handing her the sachets one by one, with great concentration and effort. What a beautiful kid!

Rahama comes in irregularly. Sometimes we see her daily, sometimes we don't hear from her for weeks and we're very happy when she suddenly turns up again. Rahama also likes to take a shower when she comes in, and to put lovely, rich cream on her dry and dull skin. She, too, has a bundle of clean clothes stored away with us so it only takes her a while to come and sit down with us all freshed up and clean again. She usually manages to get enough money begging to buy a nice breakfast, and after that all she really wants to do is sleep: somewhere she's not disturbed, she doesn't have to respond to everything and she's not harassed. Life can be hard for a teenage girl with a mental handicap out on the streets... We roll out a mat for her on the veranda, she chooses a doll to keep her company and she's fast asleep in no time.

In the beginning, when Haruna just started working with us and Gafaru -another boy with Down's syndrome- walked past, our workers told Haruna his 'brother' was coming. Haruna would then shout at Gafaru and call him names, so Gafaru would run away scared and all the workers had great fun. This is often how people here still respond to those who are different. You joke about them, make them look bad and have fun doing it. It took a while before everyone in the workshop realised there is another way, too. Gafaru dares to come in now, and he can be at ease. He plays with the other kids at the veranda, drives around on the tractor and sometimes Haruna even allows him to sit with him, and they work together for a while. It takes your breath away to watch it.

A group of children from the 'Special School' faithfully drops by every day on their way home from school, just to say hello and tell us the news of the day. Our trainees assure us they really will be coming in to work again on Saturday. Because it's not easy for these kids to count and collect water sachets, they simply pick up all the sachets they find on their way from school to the workshop. We count them together and add the amount to the special list we keep for them. It works really well and they have already saved up for quite a number of items, this way.

Another wonderful moment is when Miss Lydia comes by. She 's a very engaged teacher from one of the outer suburbs. She stumbled across our workshop once and was fascinated by what we do. She took several items with her to show to her pupils. She showed the whole school and created an assembly point for the kids to drop off their sachets. Every once in a while, she comes by on a moped loaded with thousand of sachets to exchange them for beautiful products. The other day, she had two pupils and two teachers coming with her in a taxi. She wanted them to know about this place in case she would ever be unable to come. She didn't want the beautiful exchange between her school and Tuma-Viela to be entirely dependent on her. I'm so glad they exist: wonderful people who make a difference.

There was a blind man the other day, with 500 sachets for a raincoat. We got talking and he told me he had always worked as a teacher. He worked at a school out in the bush, near a river, and contracted river blindness. He hasn't been able to see at all for ten years now, he can't work anymore and sits at home twiddling his thumbs. Just at that moment, Hamdia started one of her many lessons of that day in the classroom and I invited the man to join her. Before long, he took over with a flair and enthusiasm that was highly contagious. It was obvious he was so happy to have children around him again that the teacher in him surfaced immediately. We suddenly heard kids clapping their hands and repeating full sentences in English after him. A special guest giving a wonderful, spontaneous guest lesson.

And then there's Takoro, visiting the workshop almost daily... And many more. There are so many remarkable moments to a day.

Receiving so many different visitors is great, but going out to visit someone yourself is wonderful too. I'll be visiting my mother at the end of this month, together with Lizzy and Faruk. We have been preparing for the trip for over a year now, and it's finally going to happen. It will also give us the chance to lobby for Tuma Viela and hopefully we'll be able to tell everyone we can keep on going when we'll return after eight weeks. To continue working hard and providing a home to whoever crosses our path.


Newsletter pictures