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Changing people's lives with elephant dung

To tell the remarkable story of the transformation of the lives of hundreds of disabled people at Neema Crafts, Tanzania.

by Guy Donegan-Cross

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To tell the remarkable story of the transformation of the lives of hundreds of disabled people at Neema Crafts, Tanzania.

Preparation and materials


The Neema story

Slide 1
  (20 seconds)  In some parts of the world, people with disabilities receive no help from the state, are hidden by their families and are considered cursed by society. This is the story of how a little bit of imagination, and a lot of compassion, brought hope to those with little hope.

Slide 2  (10 seconds)  In 2003 a couple called Andy and Susie Hart moved to Iringa, a town in the middle of Tanzania.

Slide 3  (15 seconds)  At that time, it was estimated that in this area between 10 and 15 per cent of the population were disabled in some way. Andy had gone to be a vet, and Susie, who was a textile artist, was waiting to see what she could do.

Slide 4  (15 seconds)  After a few weeks Susie had an idea. She found some elephant dung in a local safari park. Elephants eat grass and leaves, effectively pulping it through their digestive system.

Slide 5  (10 seconds)  Susie combined the dung with some chemicals, and then dried it out to make . . . paper. From this paper attractive cards could be made for sale.

Slides 6 to 10  (35 seconds)  Susie approached her local bishop to see whether premises could be found to employ three deaf young men. She got a grant of £400 from a UK charity. They started making the products, and business quickly grew. Within 2 years, 70 people were working there, doing beadwork, weaving and serving at a café. After 4 years, they were making solar panel products, candles and recycled glass beads.

Slide 11  (15 seconds)  What had originally been called ‘Neema Crafts Workshop’ was now ‘Neema Crafts Centre for People with Disabilities’. But the space was too small. In 2009 they moved to their own building, adding a ceramics workshop, shop, larger restaurant and Internet café – entirely staffed by people with disabilities.

Slide 12  (8 seconds)  In 2010, Telegraph readers voted the restaurant ‘the best British run restaurant outside the UK’.

Slides 13 to 14  (14 seconds)  Today 123 people are working at the Neema Crafts Centre. The staff have set up and manage their own credit and savings scheme.

Slide 15  (15 seconds)  There is a deaf football team, a one-legged football team, a dance group and a sitting volleyball team.

Slide 16  (30 seconds)  What has been the effect of Neema on the people who work there?

–  Before, they used to have to beg on the streets; now they have their own bank accounts. 
–  Before, they missed out on primary education because of the stigma of their disabilites; now they are given literacy classes, as well as education in other life skills.
–  Before, they were looked down on and hidden away, being viewed as ‘cursed’; now they have dignity, self-esteem, and can participate in society. And local government has paid attention, coming to Neema to see how public perceptions can be changed.

Slide 17  (40 seconds)  What does the word ‘Neema’ mean? It is the Swahili word for ‘grace’. And grace means to love people, no matter what.

Time for reflection

Lives have been changed by Neema. With a bit of imagination, and a lot of compassion, you could bring about that kind of change, too.


Lord, thank you for Neema,

and thank you that you see the potential in everyone.

Help me to be someone who can help others to discover their dignity.



‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)

Publication date: August 2012   (Vol.14 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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