Changing lives - the work of Workaid

PUBLISHED: 15:19 29 November 2013 | UPDATED: 15:21 29 November 2013

Making a difference at Kavule Parents School for the Deaf in Uganda

Making a difference at Kavule Parents School for the Deaf in Uganda


Give impoverished people treasured tools and skills and they can support themselves and their loved ones, explains Jane Bucknell

It started as a small project by a group of friends in 1986 in response to the now famous television report by Michael Buerk on the devastating famine in Ethiopia. They discovered that their simple idea of refurbishing unwanted tools and putting them into the hands of those who could use them, was to mark the beginning of an extraordinary journey that has helped to change the lives of thousands of people.

Some 27 later, WORKAID has supported more than 123,000 people, in the UK and overseas. Based in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, the charity collects donated tools from all over the country, restoring them to full working order with the help of a team of 200 volunteers at a workshop.

The tools are then sent to approved vocational training projects to help vulnerable and disadvantaged people to become self supporting. In the last year, around 80 tonnes of equipment, from sewing machines to typewriters, has been sent to projects in Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Practical skills training in the use of the equipment is helping to break the poverty cycle by teaching people in some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities skilled trades to earn a living and support themselves and their families.

WORKAID have dedicated Area Organisers across the UK who receive tools from donors. Volunteer van-drivers then collect the tools and transport them to WORKAID’s workshop at The Old Boot Factory in Chesham, where volunteers refurbish and pack equipment into shipping containers ready to be transported to the projects.

Putting tools to good use

One of the many projects that WORKAID work with is the Kavule Parents School for the Deaf in Uganda. Founded in 1999, the project focuses on educating deaf children who are largely unable to access education. WORKAID havsupported the project since 2003, supplying tools from carpentry sets to sewing and knitting machines, through to typewriters and horticultural equipment.

In the south of Zambia, the Choma Youth Development Organisation has seen graduates go on to become tutors, so it can expand. Their products, mainly using carpentry skills, are also sold to improve local trade and the livelihoods of those who have produced them.

The St Augustus Self Help Group in Western Kenya was established in 2004, and had 146 students enrolled by the time they approached WORKAID in 2007. The project has since benefited from a combination of carpentry and masonry kits, as well as sewing and knitting machines.

Here in the UK

WORKAID has supplied tools and equipment to 15 projects in the past year and helped people through practical skills training. The charity works with organisations such as The Prince’s Trust. Tool kits were supplied to individuals who had completed vocational training for them to put their skills into practice.

With the closure of a number of essential services supporting vulnerable adults in recent years, the WORKAID Hub was established to provide skills training for people with learning disabilities who may have been affected by service closure. Based at WORKAID’s workshop, the WORKAID Hub is a local service offering vocational skills training to clients with a wide range of needs.

The workshop allows clients to take part in activities such as carpentry, haberdashery and crafts with a qualified coordinator. Autumn of 2010 saw the opening of the WORKAID Shop to sell equipment that could not be used for other projects. This has become a local goldmine for those looking for haberdashery, creative pieces or gardening tools, as well as a much needed source of revenue.

WORKAID needs you!

Like all charities, WORKAID can only continue its fantastic work through the support of volunteers who devote time and lend their expertise, and they are always grateful to hear from volunteers who would like to help in the office, workshop or retail outlet.

They also have to work harder each year to cover costs, particularly when shipping containers overseas. With each container costing nearly £8,000, and with between eight and 10 containers shipped every year, WORKAID depend on the generosity of individuals in addition to the funds provided by grants and foundations.

There are also plenty of opportunities to support WORKAID through sponsorship and fundraising. WORKAID also have a unique answer to the age old question of what to buy loved your loved ones at Christmas through their ‘Practical Gifts Range’. A practical gift from WORKAID can send a sewing machine or tool kit to Africa to provide a lifeline for someone in need.

For just £10, WORKAID can supply a haberdashery kit to help a woman’s cooperative establish their business, and a donation of £15 can help to cover shipping a life changing kit to those living in poverty. Loved ones can be given the gift knowing that they have helped someone in need, without having to find space in their wardrobe for yet another Christmas jumper!

For further details on how to volunteer, make a donation or for further info on the Hub Workshop, visit or telephone 01494 775 220.

How it works

Formed in 2001, ITEZO (International Trust for the Education of Zambian Orphans) was set up with the aim of empowering women and children through skills training to enable them to learn a new trade and set up a sustainable means of living. ITEZO aims to provide formal education and training to women and children, and currently train at least 50 women a year. In the last year, WORKAID have sent over 25 knitting machines and horticultural tools to ITEZO

Beatrice is a physically disabled mother who completed a course in knitting, and was retained by the business as an instructor to pass on knowledge to other women: “My life has changed completely now,”, says Beatrice. “I can now look after myself and my child. WORKAID has brought us another skill.”

Annie was one of a group of women encouraged by the project to cultivate small gardens beside their houses. Using tools sent by WORKAID, Annie is growing vegetables to feed her family, and sells left over produce in the local market to give her a small income.

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