The National Ramah Tikvah Network is working to support our campers, families and staff members during these challenging times. Howard will be hosting three Zoom sessions (with colleagues from the Ramah Tikvah and larger disabilities inclusion communities). The sessions are as follows:

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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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The Original Article published On The New York Jewish Week

Howard Blas was live at an amazing showcase of young musical talent–all to benefit AKIM, Israel’s organization for people with intellectual disabilities.

The Musical Showcase to Celebrate Diversity, Ability and Inclusion Featuring the Awesome Talent of NYC Teens and Young Adults was set to start at 12:30 pm at Manhattan’s Cutting Room.  Yet, by noon, the funky musical venue was already buzzing with excitement. A large group of students from such New York schools as Blessed Sacrament, Horace Mann and Avenues were practicing on stage for their opening number, “Tequila.” Emily Negron, 15, of the Bronx, was getting in some last minute practicing of “All You Need is Love” at the rear of the venue with fellow Ideal School students, Vita Krasny and Laura Lyle. “Turn that way when you feel me put my hand on your shoulder,” Negron instructed her fellow performers.

When the concert began, a performer with a visible disability informed the crowd that she may be singing off pitch. The crowd clapped and went wild.  A brother and sister team, with the brother performing two songs from his walker, brought the house down.

Logan Riman of Edward R Murrow School sat at a piano and flawlessly played Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” as a photo of Riman with The Piano Man appeared on the screen.

Other acts in the eclectic afternoon were electric, including Daniel Becker of the Rebecca School playing the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun” and the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR,” accompanied by drums and guitar.

Angelica Mroczek, Miss Staten Island Outstanding Teen 2020, a student at Curtis High School and Myles Roven, of the Packer Collegiate Institute, welcomed the crowd to the second annual AKIM event and thanked its sponsor, the Building Bridges Conference.  AKIM is the National Organization for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel—founded in 1951. Mroczek’s twin sister Tatiana also performed in the concert.

The pair introduced Ami Ayalon, Chair of AKIM Israel and former Chief of the Israeli Navy and Former Head of Israel’s Secret Service. Ayalon, who came from Israel to address the crowd, was emotional and passionate as he told the story of his niece, Zahara, who, with disabilities and great charm, taught his own children “how to respect the other” and in the process, they “became better people.” Ayalon offered his remarks after the first two songs and playfully said, “I am glad my wife is not here. It is the first time in 50 years she did not come with me.  She would be crying in the last five minutes.” Ayalon explained that AKIM is responsible for 35,000 people with disabilities in Israel, and their 150,000 family members and has thousands of volunteers.

AKIM’s 65 national centers are in 85 towns throughout Israel in both Jewish and Arab sectors. “We advocate for all people with special needs in Israel—Jew and Arab, Christian, Muslim and Hindu, religious and not religious.  AKIM is an island of sanity in a society of tribes.  Our vision is our mission statement—to create a better Israeli society.”  Ayalon was particularly excited about a concert featuring such a diverse group of performers. “We are humans—and music connects us!”

Robert Ukrainsky, a student at Avenues School and a saxophone player who performed with numerous groups throughout the concert, has been involved with AKIM for many years. “I learned about AKIM when I was looking for a Bar Mitzvah project. When I heard about a new program being set between AKIM and Tel Aviv University Dental Center that will allow your adults with intellectual disabilities be trained and get jobs, I got fascinated. The idea of giving someone an opportunity to live independently and instilling social equality resonated with me,” he said.  Ukrainsky’s mother, Rada Sumareva, is a periodontist implant surgeon, AKIM board member and one of the organizers of the concert.  Ukrainsky visited the program in Israel last summer and met with the four students in the first cohort of the program. 

Ukrainsky was delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the concert. “I feel fortunate to be a part of the inclusion concert as we all can learn about each other’s differences and bring the best of our abilities to make music together. We are all part of the same team, share our interest in music, and truly enjoy new friendships and stage collaborations. I made new friends through this concert and also was able to reconnect with my old friends who joined the team this year.”

His mother, Rada, added, “The concert was especially meaningful for Robert as it not only enabled him to collaborate with all these incredible musicians different in various ways and help AKIM, but also it was a stage debut of his own student who is now 8 and who started saxophone lessons with Robert when he was 6. It warmed my heart that his first question after the show yesterday was not about his performance, it was about his student’s performance!”

Robert Ukrainsky and his musical protege in the Musical Showcase benefitting AKIM. Courtesy of Howard Blas

At this year’s event, performers, family members and guests didn’t want to leave—even when they concert officially ended. They stayed for an informal jam session and drum circle.  Ideal student Emily Negron enjoyed performing with her two friends from the Ideal School and summed it up best and will hopefully be back for next year’s 3rd annual event. “It is an amazing opportunity. I sing daily. I love to participate with others. I love it all!”

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