Although worldwide immunization efforts have resulted in a steady decline of polio cases, the disabling disease is still a fact of life in a small number of countries. More than 1,000 cases were reported in Africa in 2004. A viral disease, polio can damage the nervous system and even cause paralysis, and in several countries, there are few provisions for the handicapped. Wonder Welders formed in one of these countries, Tanzania, where polio victims have found an opportunity to make art — and a living — from scrap metal.
“In 2004, a group of adult polio victims, many of whom were begging on the streets in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, came together … and established a welding workshop,” the Wonder Welders website explains. There began the self-sufficient journey of these victims-turned-welders. Within time, the welders were using donated scrap metal to create locally-sold sculptures: boats, bikes, and animals, now considered world-class metal artwork.
“We started using scrap metal, rather than cutting up old oil drums to make the animals. It adds depth as people look at the piece and see what the parts were in a past life,” welding instructor Heather Cumming told the BBC News.
The wonder welders prefer not to talk about their own past lives begging on the streets, and instead focus on their welding workshops, scrap metal artwork, and plans for the future. In addition to the creation of exotic metal creatures, “one added extra their [welding] skills have brought them is the ability to fix their own, often flimsy, pedal wheelchairs,” the BBC News shares. The welders are proud of these newfound talents, and sculpture sales allow the 40 full-time welders to support themselves and their families.
Photo credits: Wonder Welders.