BLIND FAITH…Bulawayo woman gives hope to the visually impaired Annaliniah Nkomo

Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle Reporter 

UTILISING the sense of touch, visually impaired youths sit confidently, exchanging playful banter while weaving baskets on desks neatly lined up facing large industrial windows. 

The products of their skills and creativity in the form of beautifully hand-made cane baskets are on display. They use traditional weaving techniques to create intricately patterned baskets of different shapes and designs.

Their instructor, Annaliniah Nkomo (52) moves around the small room in a wheelchair monitoring their work. She is using her basket-weaving talent to help equip people with disabilities.

Walking through the doors of a workshop in Thorngrove suburb in Bulawayo, which is operated by Jairos Jiri Centre, one gets a better understanding of what is happening behind those walls. 

Nkomo said teaching the visually impaired is what drives her and the ultimate goal is to strengthen the needs of blind and disabled people by developing their skills and promoting entrepreneurial ambitions.

In teaching her students, she demonstrates by holding their hands and slowly singing a song to help motivate them.

“I do that in the first week and after mastering the concept, they hum the same tune as they make their baskets. 

“Teaching youths who are visually impaired is a fulfilling job knowing that you are imparting life skills so that they don’t go about begging,” said Nkomo.

“I am actually using my God-given talent to help the visually impaired youths to have a sense of belonging and dignity in society.”

Mrs Nkomo said she has been teaching the disabled since 2015. The programme is a two-year course and the centre enrolls between 15-20 students each year.

The students are taught how to make shopping baskets, mats, washing baskets, and hamper baskets.

“Our products are sold for at least US$3 and the most expensive one goes for US$9. We buy the reed from Tashas informal market, and the prices depend on the quantity that we are buying,” said Nkomo.

One of the students Mr Gamuchirai Mavuku (20) from Masvingo, said he first started the course in 2019.

“When I enrolled at Jairos Jiri Centre, I had no idea what weaving was all about. With the help of my tutor, I have mastered the art, and once your hands get used to the type of reeds and the rhythm of the song, everything falls into place,” he said.

Mavuku said after completing the course he opted to continue staying at the centre so that he could acquire more knowledge and experience in basketry.

“Last year in December l went to Masvingo with five baskets that l had woven and they were sold out and was able to buy some food for my family and more reeds for my business. I use my hands to feel the baskets and that way I am able to detect the mistakes and rectify them,” he said.

Mbonisi Nkomo (32) of Nguboyenja suburb in Bulawayo said through weaving baskets she is managing to look after her 16-year-old son and her siblings.

Nkomo challenged the visually impaired to desist from the culture of waiting for handouts.

“I was able to grasp the concept in a space of two days during the practical lessons. In no time, I was able to weave on my own without being assisted. Today, I am now a professional as you can see how good my work is,” she said.

“The money l am generating from weaving goes toward my son’s upkeep as I do not want him to suffer simply because he has a visually impaired mother.”— @flora_siband

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