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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 01:54 GMT
The wonder welders of Tanzania
By Tira Shubart
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

An exhibition showcasing the work of a group of polio victims who built a reputation for designing innovative and unusual sculptures has opened in Tanzania.

A polio victim welding a giraffe sculpture in Tanzania
Tanzania makes little provision for people who are handicapped

The self-styled "wonder welders" of Dar es Salaam were offered technical training in welding by a local businessman in an imaginative scheme which has changed the lives of men who previously had to beg on the streets to live.

In Tanzania, like many African countries, there is little provision for people who are handicapped.

Now their artistic collective creates and sells metal animal sculptures using scrap metal.

"We are very proud of our work and we love making our African animals," says Justin Kato, one of the welders.


It all began when businessman Paul Joynson-Hicks became frustrated seeing the group of men in their wheelchairs by his office, day after day.

A polio victim working on a sculpture in Tanzania
I knew they had incredible upper-body strength
Businessman Paul Joynson-Hicks

"I would drive past and they would ask me for a job, but my business is photography and I had nothing to offer them."

But he had an inspiration when watching welders working on repairs to his property one day.

"I went back and asked the men if they would be interested in doing some welding.

"I knew they had incredible upper-body strength from using the hand pedals on their wheelchairs."

Using money from a small fund for local community projects, a welding technician was employed to teach the men basic skills.

And a monthly salary of 70,000 Tanzanian shillings ($70) was paid to the men when they joined the group.

Growing sales

A dozen local businesses quickly pledged their support as corporate sponsors, initiating a stream of commissions.

The growing sales are used to pay for more sophisticated welding and safety equipment.

It is hoped their exhibition will raise further funds to allow the scheme to expand and train even more jobless people who have lost the use of limbs through polio - which 20 years ago was endemic in much of Africa.

Despite widespread polio eradication programmes, more than 1,000 cases were reported in Africa in 2004.

Twenty-two-year-old Scottish welder Heather Cumming has been teaching the group new techniques to make their work easier.

"We started using scrap metal, rather than cutting up old oil drums to make the animals. It adds depth as people look at the piece and see what the parts were in a past life."


Sitting in the shade in the outdoor workshop, the welders work in small groups on different tasks and creations.

Giraffe sculpture
It is hoped the exhibition will raise funds to expand the scheme
Mr Kato explains the welders work as a group according to their individual talents.

"Now with more training we can make more animals and our work is better."

One added extra their skills have brought them is the ability to fix their own, often flimsy, pedal wheelchairs.

The Wonder Welders are proud of their self reliance and don't speak much of the times when they were forced to beg at traffic lights.

"We have a job we are proud of and we are here every morning at 0900, happy to start the day," says Mr Kato.

Tanzania artists go metal
06 Aug 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Tanzania
01 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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