After studying Fashion and Textiles Katy then set up her own on-line shop ‘www.katyray.co.uk’ where she sold handmade interior products such as silk lampshades, cushions, printed notebooks, cards and ceramics.
Having spent six months teaching in a Tanzanian secondary school in 2003, Katy already had a good grasp of swahili and the local culture before she came to visit Neema Crafts for the first time in 2007 with her husband Ben. Soon after their short initial visit, Katy was invited back out by Susie Hart for a month’s placement at Neema to help to develop some of the screen-printed designs as this is Katy’s area of specialism. It was during this time that Katy really grew to love the work of Neema Crafts and was inspired to see how all of her practical training in Fashion and Textiles could directly benefit the most marginalized, in a way she had never thought possible.
After this, Katy and Ben began to dream together of ways they could use their skills in a similar way overseas. Over a year later, the couple had spent much time thinking and praying about whether their dream could be a reality. After devoting a whole week (one half-term break) to prayer about whether it was right for them to give up their comfortable jobs and work in Tanzania, they felt strongly the call to ‘just go’. Just a week later Katy received an email from Susie Hart inviting her to take over the running of Neema Crafts. Susie explained that she and her family would need to move back to the UK in three year’s time and they were looking for new directors of the centre. This was one of many confirmations that lead Katy and Ben out to Tanzania, but before heading out they first tested their calling through applying to be Mission Partners with CMS (the Church Mission Society).
After a long process of interviews, assessment panels and training at All Nations Christian College, Katy and Ben headed out to Iringa, Tanzania in May 2011.
Ben first visited Tanzania as a school leaver in 1999 with his church St John’s, Blackheath. At the end of the three-week trip to Musoma, the hosting CMS Mission Partners asked the group of teenagers to reflect on their experiences and think about how they would use their upcoming university education to serve God’s Kingdom. Not knowing he would end up back in Tanzania, the experiences of this short trip and brief reflection helped Ben on his journey to Neema Crafts.
As an undergraduate, keen for travel and adventure, Ben was in his first year at Loughborugh University, studying Product Design and Manufacture when he met Katy’s older brother Tim. When Tim invited Ben to join him in South Africa for a three-month course with YWAM, Ben leapt at the opportunity. It was while there, living in a deprived shanty town area that Ben was first challenged by the hopelessness that unemployment wrought in the young men he saw walking the streets and he was reminded about the challenge of the missionaries in Tanzania.
After completing his degree and an industrial placement at Dyson, Ben wanted to test a calling he had felt to set up a self-financing vocational training centre for impoverished young men in Tanzania. So he headed back to volunteer in Musoma for four months. Here, he made a close friend called John Opudo. When John was asked what the young people within his church needed most, he repeated back the very same dream Ben had felt.
Having met Katy by this stage, Ben returned to the UK to train as a Design and Technology Teacher and get married. Then, after five years of teaching experience, Ben finished his job at Monkton Combe School to pursue what he and Katy felt God was calling them to at Neema Crafts – offering practical training and employment opportunities to the most marginalized young men and women in Tanzania.
Susie Hart, MBE, the founder of Neema Crafts, was herself born with a disability. She had many operations throughout her childhood and spent much of her time in a wheel chair or in plaster casts to give her the mobility she enjoys today. Susie studied Textile Art at Winchester School of Art. She trained in and has experience of a wide variety of arts and crafts. During and after her student years, Susie spent much time in Uganda. She studied for a term of her Winchester Degree course at Makerere University in Kampala in their Arts department. She later returned to Uganda in 1997 to set up a craft workshop for the L'arche community in Kampala, training them in Candle making and hand made paper-making from the water hyacinth found in Lake Victoria. Returning to the UK, Susie worked with blind and deaf-blind adults at Henshaws craft centre in Knaresborough in North Yorkshire before heading out to Tanzania with her husband Andy as CMS mission partners. During her first year in Tanzania, Susie developed initial product ideas and sought out markets before starting Neema Crafts in 2003 with three young deaf men.
Since returning to her home in Harrogate, UK in 2011, Susie has continued to support the work of Neema Crafts through fund-raising events and giving talks. In 2012 Susie was honoured for her extraordinary work with people with disabilities in Africa when she received an MBE.
Susie has now set up a new organization called Craft Aid International, which works with people with disabilities in the UK and aims to train and send young designers out to set up or support similar projects across the globe.
Andy Hart, Susie’s husband, was a co-director of the Neema Crafts Centre until 2011. He trained as a veterinary surgeon and a zoologist at university. He met Susie whilst they were fundraising together to purchase a Landrover Ambulance for a clinic in Rukungiri in South West Uganda. Andy worked in mixed practice based in Harrogate in the Yorkshire Dales. He then took the Master's in Tropical Veterinary Medicine and a Rural Development course at Edinburgh University before applying to the Church Mission Society (CMS) to serve as a long-term mission partner with Susie.
The Diocese of Ruaha in Iringa had requested a vet to work with them and so they came to Iringa to work with the church as mission partners. Andy's role was as a development officer for rural areas of the diocese. As such he was involved in various projects, but his two main areas across the region were, training vaccination teams to vaccinate their village chickens against Disease and coordinating a project to set up households and schools with safe water using the SODIS method for household water treatment. As Neema Crafts grew in size Andy was needed to help manage the office as Co-Director and help with fundraising.
Since returning to the UK in 2011, Andy has trained as a primary school teacher and is using his wide experience to educate the next generation.