Soon after arriving in Dar es Salaam we were looking for shops to buy nice gifts, preferably places that are nice to show our visitors. Those of you lucky enough to visit us in Kenya will remember places like Kazuri (beads and jewellery), Marula (art made out of recycled flipflops), and Matbronze (bronze statues).
Here in Dar we don’t have many places to take visitors, as the tourists mostly go to Arusha and therefore there aren’t many things locally. But one of the places recommended to visit was Mabinti, so soon after arriving we went over and we fell in love with the things they make.
Mabinti is a wonderful place. It is located in a house not far from the peninsula. The ladies who work here have all had an obstetric fistula operation, and join the Mabinti team for half a year. Not only do they learn how to sew, they also learn all the skills necessary to run their own business. And at ‘graduation time’ they all receive a sewing machine and some stock (fabric, thread etc) to start their sewing business back home.
However, some ladies who have graduated over the years, have stayed at Mabinti. They form the production team and are the ones creating all the beautiful things they make for the shop. The proceeds from the shop are used to assist many other women to have the obstetric fistula operation so they can return to a normal life again.
Obstetric fistulae have enormous physical, social, economic, and psychological consequences for the women affected.
According to UNFPA, “Due to the prolonged obstructed labour, the baby almost inevitably dies, and the woman is left with chronic incontinence. Unable to control the flow of urine or faeces, or both, she may be abandoned by her husband and family and ostracized by her community. Without treatment, her prospects for work and family life are virtually nonexistent.”
More than 1,000 women a year in Tanzania are operated at the Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), roughly a third of all annual operations performed in Tanzania. The Mabinti Centre raises money to support these operations.
They create things from canvas, beautiful things, and almost all our gifts are bought there. Everything is done in-house, and it is impressive to see. The canvas they buy is cream-coloured, but they dye it in a variety of colours. They then screen-print every piece of fabric by hand, before they sew it into a beautiful item (sometimes they print first, other times they cut first before printing depending on what they are making). Even the screen-prints are made in house, done with pride by the only man working there called Cloudy.
Mabinti already exists more than 10 years and Katja is the Belgian lady who started it all. When visiting with Jude’s mum and dad (Riet and Nico), they were going to make a special little basket for Riet which needed to be picked up before they closed for the whole month of July. And when we picked it up, Cloudy showed us how he creates the screenprints, and we were allowed to use one ourselves.
It is also possible to place a special order, for example a bag with your favourite colours, design and size. We will definitely be ordering some special souvenirs from Mabinti before we leave Tanzania!
To create a screen-print you need a very fine polyester mesh and three chemicals – photo emulsion, sensitizer and a hardener.
You start by building the frame and stretching the mesh over it. You then wash the mesh before covering both sides with a mixture of the photo emulsion and sensitizer. You then dry it with a fan, all of this is done in a dark room of course to ensure the photo emulsion doesn’t already react with the light.
The design is printed on white paper with black ink and is placed upside down on the mesh (the print is facing up from the light box and the screen is placed on top). It is important the design is placed in exactly the right place. Once it is in place everything is made wet with kerosene and let to dry before covering it with a dark cloth. A board is added and something heavy placed on top to press it all down. The light box is then turned on for 5 minutes to expose the chemicals to the light.
As the black lines of the design block the light, these are the only areas of the mesh that stay open. The rest of the mesh is closed, creating the screen-print. You spray water to remove the chemicals and, if necessary, you find any areas that are not closed and treat those again. The new screen is then laid outside in the sun to dry.
The hardener is wiped onto both sides with a cotton cloth to ensure the print can be used many times, and then it is washed again. It is now almost ready to use, the final step is adding brown tape to cover the wood and mark the edges of the print so it doesn’t absorb any dye when printing.
Mabinti now also has a shop at Slipways, making it easier for tourists on the peninsula to find their beautiful things to buy. The workshop (and the original shop), where you can meet the ladies creating all these bags and other things, is still located at 46 Migombani St in Mikocheni (Dar es Salaam).