To work with people with fewer opportunities has always been one of the Tools for Solidarity’s (TFS) main aims. The will to put this goal into practise grew stronger when Stephen Wood visited the Garvald Factory in 1988. It’s a group based in Edinburgh that was developed by an organisation called Tools For Self Reliance (TFSR). In this group volunteers with autism and down syndrome refurbished rusted and damaged tools that would later be sent out to countries of Africa. Stephen was inspired by seeing the satisfaction of volunteers when they saw the impact of their work on the lives of others.
We finally started to work with supported volunteers in 1992 when we moved to the workshop on Crumlin Road, Belfast. Before that our organisation was too small so that we were working from a garage, therefore there were not sufficient access for people with disabilities.
Later that Tools For Solidarity developed one of its core aims which are:
- Provide opportunities for people in NI to participate in worthwhile and valuable work. Tools For Solidarity is committed to work with all sections of the community. We are particularly focused on providing sheltered placements for people with special needs and those normally excluded from being able to contribute to society in a positive way.
Our work with supported volunteers
Tools For Solidarity has started creating partnerships with Belfast organisations that support people with disabilities or fewer opportunities. These are organisations we’ve been successfully working with so far:
- New Horizons
- Cedar Foundation
A supported volunteer is someone who may require extra help in terms of individual and social needs. They may be in the situation of having:
- Physical disability (such as loss of sight or restriction in movement)
- Mental health issues
- Brain injuries resulting from a head trauma
Before we offer a place in TFS we ask volunteers to visit our workshop. During the visit, we discuss the type of work that the volunteer is willing to do, as well as if the person likes the place so far or not because it’s essential for everyone.
Additionally work for supported volunteers depends on their abilities, preference and the ongoing work needed to TFS. Here is a list of types of work that people can do:
- Sanding and varnishing
- Repairing tools, such as drills, chisels, etc.
- Building boxes
- Repairing sewing machines
- Refurbishing treadle bases for sewing machines
The training and support given to the volunteers help them to develop different skills. Gained skills improve the quality of volunteers lives and enable them to be more self-sufficient and confident. Volunteers are happy to see how their work benefits people that live in difficult situations in some of the poorest countries of the world.
Here is what one of our supported volunteers says:
“Being a volunteer in TFS gives me the satisfaction to do something great and help repair tools and sewing machines because I’m very good with my hands” – Larry.
Apart from practical skills TFS provides a supportive and social environment where these people can interact with one another.
As Liam says, “Working for Tools for solidarity gave me the joy to help somebody else. It gave also me the joy to meet people from different countries.”
Almost every day international volunteers work with supported volunteers. This is an experience of sharing and mutual learning:
“Working with supported volunteers is an amazing experience! It is a human enriching, for the new relationships you find, but it’s also an occasion to grow up and improve oneself; it’s a nice exchange: you teach something to them, but mostly you learn a lot from every supported volunteer!” – Giulia (From Italy).
TFS operates a workshop in Belfast and helps to support TFS Downpatrick (a group staffed entirely by people with special, support needs) in offering people the opportunity to come in and help:
- Belfast workshop – main focus of work is organising shipments to Tanzania. This includes making boxes, refurbishing tools and repairing sewing machines.
- Downpatrick workshop – volunteers work on sanding, cleaning and sharpening tools.
- TFS also has a support group in Mourne Grange Camphill Community. They clean and refurbish tools.