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First Impression Paper: Jacaranda Workshop

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Historical Background of the Institution

The Jacaranda workshop that began in 1982 was initially started as a project by the Rotary Club Nairobi. What the workshop does is that it offers employment as well as the possibility for mentally handicapped people to work on further building their skills and training them for their life in the workforce. They manufacture, sell and export the jewelry items they make as a way to create the income that pays and supports the mentally handicapped workers. However from my discussion with a member of staff I learnt that the idea for the workshop to initially start making jewelry came from a man called Alan Spyby, from Britain. Which is why they mostly make jewelry. To date they say they have 120 ex-employees who have gone further in the sense of being able to leave the workshop and go on to work on their own or elsewhere. Most of the people they employ are students who have graduated from the Jacaranda special school. It is the school board that oversees the running of the workshop, hence its important to know what it is the school offers the students before they move on to the workshop.

So what the school does is that they start off by placing students based on the level of their skills rather than age. So learning how to eat on their own or toilet training are the key things they look at first, once they master this they go to beginning classes where they are introduced to simple production of beads, and other mixed abilities where they continue to be assessed on their strengths and weaknesses and move up that way, eventually graduating and trying to attain a position at the workshop. Some key milestones that have occurred begin with the donation the Rotary Club Nairobi got from the Japanese rotary club in 1985 where with the money they got built the newer buildings, such as the ceramics building. Interestingly, if you look at the two building they have a certain Japanese architectural design to them that differentiates them from the first building. Their main customers are International buyers from a company named Ten Thousand Villages and they are from the United States of America and Canada, while the other buyer is known as Global Craft.

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Feelings and Impressions about the site

Initially I had no idea that there was a workshop that helped mentally handicapped people with employment as well as giving them the skills they need to provide for themselves. So that automatically impressed me because I think what they are doing is great. However when you first visit their site it seemed somewhat abandoned in the sense that it was empty. I wasn’t properly aware of what to expect when I went to the site because you somehow always have a established idea of what you’ll experience, however I met some of the ex students they employ and that instantly made me question what I know about mentally handicapped people. Which is why I liked that they took us around the school to visit the different classes and understand the different forms of ways one can be mentally handicapped. Also I like the fact that an institution like this exists and that it helps them develop life skills.

The energy that circulates around the people working there too is great as they are usually always very happy and accepting. However since I started a little late I didn’t get briefed on introducing myself and always ensuring I greet them before I get started working because otherwise they feel offended. I also like that we get to engage in conversations with the employees and through this you gain a better understanding of how to understand them, treat them and even act around them. I like that here they get to focus on their creativity, they make what they feel is beautiful and art is something you can’t really go wrong with so they can be as expressive as they please. I don’t think that there is much I do not like at this point. However, I feel like sometimes there is waste going on in the sense that sometimes beads used to make necklaces can sometimes fall and as they clean the workshops they simply sweep them away. This isn’t a big issue but with the weather lately the workshops get extremely cold, because some of the windows are broken and with some of the employees being elderly sometimes you can hear them complaining about experiencing certain aches. Also in the ceramics workshop, it can get really dusty, I think because of the clay used to make the beads.

Challenges for the Institution

The workshop’s main objective is to be able to provide employment to mentally handicapped people who are struggling to find employment with the aim of providing them training and skills but also to help with their daily livelihood. Which they intend to do through their goals such as, diversifying their work towards woodwork, as I had mentioned the workshop has mainly focused on jewelry. This way they are able to give opportunities to those students who graduated but focused more on woodwork at the school than beads. Which will then all further help them achieve their goal to become self-sustaining where they do not necessarily depend too much on donations, but as for now they are yet to begin with that. As I mentioned to date, the workshop has successfully managed to employ and train about 120 ex-jacaranda school graduates and have helped them to develop their self-esteem through the self-sustaining activities offered.

However the Workshop is facing some major challenges financially in terms of its sales and marketing. To begin with, the workshop is finding it difficult to access the international markets, especially in like Europe their major international buyers are 10 Thousand Villages, in U. S and Canada and global Craft but sales have been slow, so the orders are limited. Also they are struggling with gaining national customers. They also no longer have a working website as it had crashed and they have been unable to start it up again due to lack of funding. This would also be able to help them with their marketing issues within the country and get them customers by building awareness of their institution and their work. Besides its through this awareness that they can even work on their financially issues by getting funding from donors. Sometimes the employees can come to work and experience varying moods, where they decide to either be productive or they choose to sit there and not work.

Which is why when they are in those moods the supervising staff know how to deal with them in terms of like talking them down. By even simply getting them out of their moods or by getting them to simply communicate rather than sit there angry and unproductively. Lastly another challenge they say they face at the institution has to do with transport. Now the transport issue arises in terms of their employee’s, as most of them have varying forms of transportation. Meaning that they reach work at odd times instead of a standard time everyday, which they aim to meet hopefully through a donation of a bus or a van. This way they cannot only bring the employee’s to work on time but it allows them to safely get them home, which would reduce the chances of worried parents calling if their children aren’t home yet.

What I expect to do for the site to improve the challenges or what is the identified problem that the community needs?

For now, on an individual level I don’t believe there is much I can do to help in improving the challenges they are facing as an institution. However, for the time being the most I can probably do is help them in terms of raising awareness of their institution to people and have them spread the word. Probably suggest they get more interactive on their social media platform (Facebook) because people spend a lot of time on their social media, just browsing things. But for now their activities are mostly focused on creating products. So like some of the activities they do at the site are first of all they make their own beads from clay. The process of doing this begins with kneading the clay in water to get it smooth then you cut it up into the sizes you want for the bead, someone roles the bead and finally you have to delicately poke a whole through on both sides. They also paint their own beads however an oven like machine that can go up to 900 or more degrees does this. When these processes are done, the only activities left are to create necklaces and then ensure they come with a matching set of earrings. The necklaces are mostly made with fishing line while the earrings are made with a piece of metal. Or they use the beads to make bracelets as well as key chains.

So far I’ve been able to assist in all of those activities in the ceramics workshop, except we are yet to be taught how they make the bracelets or how they make their key chains. But I’ve realized that its actually very difficult when making the earrings because the process of cutting the piece of metal and bending it and adding in a hook has to be done precisely or you risk wasting the pieces of metal. But we have a supervisor who measures our performance in that he has the students who have understood how to do the task inspect your work before he finally inspects it before its final approval. Overall all, the activities that I have so far observed are the ones I have done my best to help with, and it’s a learning experience so I enjoy the challenge. And knowing that we’ve saved them time by making beads they may need incase of a future large shipment to their international buyers actually helps them in terms of their productivity issue.

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