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“Kindness is a language blind people see and deaf people hear”

This famous quote by Mark Twain is close to everyone’s heart at Shanga. It is painted on their wall and is one of the first things you see as you enter their workshop.

Shanga is a self-sustaining social enterprise based in Arusha, the gateway to the Northern Tanzanian safari circuit, which runs an interactive creative workshop employing people with disabilities to create beautiful products.

Shanga’s name is based on the Swahili word for bead, this is reflected throughout the workshop. Beads are an intrical part of life in the region as seen around the world as adornment for everyone in Maasai tribes.

Shanga began with beads and marbles on a kitchen table, twelve years later it has evolved into a workshop with seven creative departments and over 70 employees, over half of whom have some form of disability. Shanga provides a safe, secure and loving environment by providing training and skills development within a nurturing work environment and economic stability. This enables those working there to proudly have a successful career showcasing their creativity and support their families while doing so. This is reflected in the smiles and vibe within the workshop.

Shanga is also committed to preserving the natural environment, using recycled materials in numerous innovative, ingenious and fascinating ways. In 2018, over 100 tonnes of material was diverted from landfill and used in creating their products.

All visitors to Shanga are invited to take a free interactive tour to meet the staff, see their work and participate in fun free activities. Upon entering the main gate you will be warmly greeted by a guide, who commences with a short Swahili sign language lesson so you can greet those who are deaf. Very quickly previous stereotypes are forgotten as “Ability” is the catchphrase used. Throughout the tour, which goes through all the different creative areas, you will be enthusiastically greeted with big, warm smiles and greetings in sign language, Swahili and English.

Shanga calls it their secret and take pleasure in highlighting they have the first and only glass blowing facility in Tanzania creating a spectacular range of home wares and beads. This work space is silent apart from laughter, the roar of the furnaces and the sizzle of hot glass. The majority of the glassblowers are deaf so their movements are perfectly choreographed clearly the result of a team used to working closely together. All their glass is made from recycled wine and spirit bottles; and broken window glass with the furnaces powered by recycled cooking oil.

The Tanzanian plastic ban had no impact on Shanga as they have been making their own shopping bags from old newspapers and cardboard for twelve years in the Aluminum area. Here you will also see the team using a variety of products, including recycled aluminum sheets and bottle caps to make mobiles and other very pretty things.

This amazing group of people have chosen to embrace life and focus on their abilities. By including a visit to the workshop in your itinerary you will have the opportunity to support the staff and their families and join their conservation efforts by choosing a souvenir or gift with a story; “Art with a Heart”.


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