SHANGA (Located at Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge)

Contact: Ruth Willatt
Marketing & Business Development Consultant
Email: | Office & Whatsapp: +255 693 413 045
PO Box 12814, Arusha, Tanzania

My Visit:

This may be the most off-the-beaten track, unexpected, unintended creative training program and place of employment for people with disabilities that I have encountered in the world! I participated in the February, 2020 Friends of Access Israel Kilimanjaro climb in Tanzania, enjoyed two days of safari, and visited a synagogue, a Masai market, souvenir shops and the incredible Shanga program. Trip organizer, James Lassner, Executive Director of FAISR-Friends of Access Israel, had heard wonderful things about Shanga from a previous group who had visited. Even former President Bill Clinton has visited!

When we arrived, a guide, Paul, explained that the program was set up in 2007, to empower people with disabilities who live in Tanzania “who have been marginalized” since “people with disabilities are not a priority.” In addition, he explained that there is limited access to special education in Tanzania. He adds, “We have found that people with disabilities have skills and can do things and want to do things like everyone else.”
Of the 68 employees at Shanga (which means “beads” in Swahili), 37 have disabilities. Many participants had visible disabilities and some were working while sitting in their wheelchairs. Participants recycle such supplies as glass from hotels and wine bottles and create art and jewelry, weave, blow glass and do Tinga Tinga painting. They recycle 100 kilos of glass a day. The participants also operate a gift shop where items made in the Shanga program are sold.

Description of Program from Website:

Shanga is a successful social enterprise which employs people with disabilities to create unique, high-quality, handmade jewelry, glassware and home wares incorporating recycled materials. These products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits being reinvested back into developing opportunities to employ more people with disabilities.

Combining an uplifting local community project with unique artistic activities and opportunities to purchase handmade gifts, Shanga has been a favorite Arusha tourist destination since its inception in 2007.

Shanga became part of Elewana in 2017 as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility program, with an ongoing commitment to the people of Tanzania. Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge is the home of Shanga, which comprises of an open workshop for glass-blowing, weaving, sewing, Tinga Tinga painting, bead-making and metal work, with a shop showcasing all Shanga’s handmade products.

Shanga’s History and Philosophy:

Shanga was founded in 2007 when local resident, Saskia Rechsteiner, made a handful of fabric necklaces for a Christmas Fair in Arusha, Tanzania. Combining local fabric with some beads and her sons’ marbles, she created a unique necklace that sold out within hours. The days after the fair were busy – orders for the necklaces came in from safari companies, gift shops and even people who wanted to export them to Japan and Australia.
Saskia saw an opportunity to generate extra income for a local deaf lady she knew and together they started producing the necklaces to sell from Saskia’s backyard. Demand for the necklace grew and soon the first Shanga Workshop was established. The Shanga range of products was expanded, utilising recycled and sustainable materials where possible, and the project was opened for people to come and meet the inspiring staff and purchase products on site.

Over the years Shanga has grown to employ more than 60 people with a range of disabilities to make creative products including weaving, glass blowing, beading, paper making and metal work, using recycled materials wherever possible.
Shanga has welcomed many happy visitors and is an institution in Arusha. Some of our highlights are seeing Amal Clooney wearing our Amal necklace in the international news, and a visit from Bill Clinton and the Clinton foundation.

In 2017 Shanga was acquired by Elewana, our workshop and store are now located in the grounds of the beautiful Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge. Our staff are pleased to have such a beautiful and safe working space and have the ongoing support for our project and foundation through Elewana CSR program.
Throughout Shanga’s colorful journey, the heart of our message has remained the same – “Be kind and recycle”.

Of utmost importance to us is providing a safe, consistent and loving environment for Tanzanians with disabilities who have so often faced terrible hardship in their lives. At Shanga the focus is “ability over disability”. Of no lesser importance is making amazing products from discarded materials so that we can contribute positively to the sensitive Tanzanian environment while producing creative pieces that celebrate Tanzanian culture.


Our parent company Elewana by Collection began the process to purchased Shanga in 2016 from the original owner. This step included Shanga into the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility program. Their investment was to assist with the long term future of the project. Our mission is to create ‘self-sustaining’ and ‘environmentally-positive’ business units operated by people with disabilities: offering a safe haven to express their creativity and become productive members in their local community.

Due to our success of the project the initial investment made by Elewana was fully returned by the end of 2018. Elewana continues to provide support in non-monetary forms through network and resources sharing in areas of strategic marketing, HR and Accounting expertise.
We operate on a self-sustaining budget not reliant on external financial input to cover all operational costs.

We receive donations from outside sources. All these funds are directed towards additional requirements of our staff, including medical needs and equipment, family emergency support, education, training and community sponsorship. Sometimes we receive donations for a specific purpose, in 2019 a donation enabled up to buy the material to have a new weaving loom built.
We may consider doing some fund raising in the future for specific projects.

Lessons Learned/Challenges:

  1. Have a strong and well tested recruitment process.
  2. Choose trainees and employees with:
    • a positive attitude and willingness to learn
    • long term goals
    • an interest in becoming a member of a team
    • an understanding of and willingness to work in the environment provided by the employer
    • a willingness to work hard
  3. Always be patient when training and know in advance that it may take longer than you expect
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