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Feb7FriWhy a workshop in the Bahamas is "the happiest part of The Salvation Army." February 7, 2020 by Kathy Nguyen
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- Faith & Friends
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”–Isaiah 42:16
The Salvation Army has been a driving force in supporting blind and visually impaired individuals in Nassau, Bahamas, for decades. As in many societies around the world, there are little to no employment opportunities for people with visual impairments. The Salvation Army Adult Blind Centre and Workshop was created to address this gap and, in doing so, developed a program that teaches students vocational skills and helps them become employable.
At this workshop, students learn how to make brooms and cushions; how to use yarn-cutting machines; how to bundle and pack mops; and how to label them. Here, their visual impairments are not seen as limitations or roadblocks. Here, they are given something that they sparingly receive—opportunity.
“There was a need to create opportunities for people who are blind and visually impaired,” says the manager of the mop factory, Sidney Albury. “Most people with disabilities would stay at home, idle and unproductive. This workshop is a vital lifeline for them to have purpose and to earn a sustainable salary.”
These high-quality mops are sold all over the Bahamas. In hotels, government agencies, schools, cruise ships, business establishments and hardware stores, you’ll find a mop branded with the Salvation Army shield. The employees are compensated fairly, receiving above-minimum wage and earning a commission for each mop sold.
This small but mighty factory employs six blind individuals who produce 300 mops every day. With their strength of character and fast-paced workmanship, it is easy to forget that they are blind. They exemplify what it means to be hard-working and dedicated.
Walk into the factory and you can see that they all work at a quick rhythm, never missing a beat.
You’ll find Ervens, the youngest, with earphones on, listening to music while plastering labels on each mop. Next to him, you’ll find Kendal bundling the mops in sets of six. He hands them off to Elliot, who covers them in plastic. Next to the yarn-cutting machine, you’ll see a man with sunglasses vigorously cutting the yarn into the necessary sizes and assembling the mop pieces. This is Desmond, the patriarch of this little family.
“At the age of 15, I went totally blind,” says Desmond. “Blind people have limited opportunities—not because we don’t have the abilities, but because society doesn’t understand that people who are blind or visually impaired are able to make a positive contribution.”
Desmond has been at this factory since 1994, with no signs of stopping. Every day for more than 25 years, he has enjoyed going to work, utilizing his skills, and enjoying the companionship and camaraderie with his co-workers and friends.
“We always say that this is the happiest part of The Salvation Army,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.
Setting an Example
Nearly 60 years ago, Salvationists came together to address a profound need in society—a need to employ people who, though visually impaired, were willing and capable to join the workforce.
The Salvation Army Adult Blind Centre and Workshop provides more than just employment and productivity. This is also a place where vulnerable people are given fulfilment and a purpose.
“Our factory sets an example for what can and should be done for persons with disabilities in the rest of this country, and the world,” says Sidney.
Kathy Nguyen is the office co-ordinator at The Salvation Army’s world missions department in Toronto.