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Innovation, Social Enterprise and High Impact volunteering

Chris Hardwick--a talented craftsman & long-term volunteer who embodies the ethos of TST's mission-- has certainly made an impression on the community of Nkoaranga since his arrival in mid November! Thanks to Chris, a new studio aptly called "Speak to Us of Love" has emerged at the base of Mount Meru that teaches local students how to create jewelry and craft unlike anything seen prior in the Arusha region. His mentorship extends beyond the boundaries of pure technical skill and we have seen great excitement in the studio as he urges students to explore their creativity, to experiment and to take pride in the work they produce. Truly, we are grateful to host him.

Read a bit about his experience thus far, and learn how you can contribute, no matter where you are based in the world, below! 

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The idea of volunteering at the The Small Things that surfaced in April 2016 and involved me selling most of my possessions to fund the venture, has proven so far to be incredibly rewarding, challenging and fulfilling. Of course it has not been perfect, indeed a roller-coaster ride of joy, sadness, some tough days which have been so outweighed by such extraordinary people who have taken me into their hearts and show such love and respect to me.

I arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport around mid-afternoon on November 18, 2016 with 89.7kg of luggage. Three suitcases packed with tools, metal (brass, copper, aluminum, titanium, and some silver, copper and brass wire) came off the airplane after a 26-hour journey.

Of the three cases only one attracted attention, the one with $AUD1000.00 of metal that was to provide material for the first months of the studio classes and opening the case provided a fabulous and insightful experience of Tanzania bureaucracy Some hours later after much laughter and bon homie, USD260.00 and a bulk packet of Kit Kat lighter, I joined Teressa and Emmanuel for the drive to The Small Things at Nkoaranga, Usa River, Arusha.

Early the next morning, we all piled into the bus for a bumpy trip to the Arusha Christmas Market where student work made under the tutelage of Reuben, was being presented to the purchasing public. I had also brought from Australia a heap of sterling silver jewellery, which went on the stall.

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Two days later a very exhausted Christopher had networked the whole market, made some valuable contacts, was offered a job teaching jewellery at the biggest International school and found cheese and Danish bread. The market was a great way to meet the folk who on the Monday were to become my students.

The tools that were in my luggage and the metal, aluminum, copper, brass and some titanium, I purchased before leaving Australia provided the means to start a class on Monday 21st November. Saw piercing was the initial lesson, cutting straight and then spirals and curves, then piercing out shapes, mind you the only hole making was done with a hammer and nail. Introducing the studio to the range of tools and then getting a chart done with their Swahili translations was a definite first perquisite. I also made the decision to provide funds for lunch for the students as most had obviously not eaten before they arrived and by lunchtime everyone was wilting, it made a huge difference and the bonds between us developed more quickly.

Everyday there are challenges as a clearer direction for the studio emerges and the different skills and abilities of each student start to become much clearer. Working and collaborating with Reuben has seen an incredible development in the students, Kaima, Godfrey, Mesheck, Juliette, Noela, Emmy and Maclenna. Within the first 2 weeks they were sawing backwards with a blade not much thicker than a horses hair.

It has been interesting observing various skill sets and inclinations surface with each student and learning how to encourage those various abilities. All around the Arusha area there are many examples of homogenized Tanzanian culture expressed in jewellery and we are seeking to stay true to the historical tropes yet develop wearable art that is quite distinctive and marketable.

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I would like to apologize that none of the work of each student has been individually attributes so you may follow the progress; the logistics are a bit of a nightmare after a long day of teaching. I will look for a system that may provide more of an individual display of each artists body of work.

The tools purchased from Cape Town, South Africa finally arrived, although it was after much angst, frustration and exasperation, very valuable lessons were learnt. These were important lessons, as most of the materials and tools for the studio will need to be sourced from outside Tanzania in the future. I am delighted to be meeting other smaller silversmith’s and jewelers in and around Arusha and they are quite excited about what we are doing through the Social Enterprise program at The Small Things in Nkoaranga. There is a long-term plan evolving that will provide a continuation and success of the jewellery school not simply as a teaching program, but also a manufacturing and design enterprise for wedding and engagement rings and contemporary, high quality Tanzanian jewellery.

Considerations are being given to opening a cooking school, a sewing school/manufacturing facility to make surf and casual wear using traditional Kitenge fabric, an art/history/theory/… class, drama, script writing classes and to have regular community concerts showcasing what is being done through the Social Enterprise program.

The ongoing support for The Small Things by you is appreciated and all endeavors of the jewellery school within the Social Enterprise program are geared towards healthy children, healthy families and healthy communities.

Asante Sana, Sana, Sana,

Babu Chris/Mr. Chris

To read more about his experience and the progress of the students enrolled in "Speak to Us of Love," visit Chris' blog here or check out his jewelry and craft page on facebook here

To get involved, no matter where you are based, be sure to check out some of our current volunteer and internship opportunities as well! Karibu (We welcome you)!