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Postcard of the Week: Wonder Workshop in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Zanzibar postcard

This postcard doesn’t tell you much until you hear the story behind it. In Tanzania back in April, I spent a few nights in Dar Es Salaam, a large city on the east coast. Having had a one-on-one Swahili class I was armed with the basic phrases I’d need to get around, as English isn’t that widely spoken, or at least only at a very basic level. So I set off in search of African crafts and art. The only time I enjoy shopping is when I’m abroad and I’m hunting for treasures I wouldn’t otherwise find at home. I first visited the Wonder Workshop which was fairly well hidden and pretty unassuming. There I found a building and some roofed workshops, full of clutter, machinery, materials such as glass bottles, odd ends of wood and scrap metal. Oh and around five or six men at work welding, sawing and recycling this junk into beautiful works of art.

        Wonder Workshop is a local NGO set up in 2005 by a group of local Tanzanians who had been left disabled and unable to find employment in traditional jobs, who faced begging on the streets as their only other option. Their aim was to not only ensure they had an income to support their families, but also to provide employment for others who suffered impairments and struggled to find work. Slowly it grew and grew and artists from the UK started to visit in order to teach the craftsmen new skills and techniques. The range of handmade crafts they produce and sell is now really broad and I picked up number of items alongside these cute greetings cards. One of these was an artistic metal dragonfly made out of old nails and bronze wire, as welding metals is one of the workshop‘s key skills that made it famous. I also loved knowing that my Tanzanian shillings were going to a great cause, and I was able to look around their work space and watch them at work, which made the purchase all the more emotive.

        I really loved learning about the background behind the workshop and I was pleased to have sought them out – it’s relatively well-hidden so you need to know where you’re heading to find them. But if you ever find yourself in Dar, then definitely pay Wonder Workshop a visit and contribute to their valiant efforts, and pick up some great art while you’re there!

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