Driving around Dar es Salaam, one cannot miss the eye-catching installations of wildlife figures at roundabouts and parks. The installations are made of discarded scrap metal, welded into beautiful creations.
The installations were made by Liche Art Garage, formerly known as Wonder Welders, who literally give life and beauty to what was once waste.
The company was co-founded by Shukuru Lindunga and Seif Chembela, both aged 45. The two men went through training in vocational skills at the Yombo Vocational Centre in Tanzania for three years. Shukuru earned a certificate in welding and Seif in carpentry.
But because they didn’t know what to do with the knowledge they received, they ended up on the streets of Dar es Salaam as beggars.
Shukuru and Seif both caught polio when they were young, and were considered “disabled”.
In 2004, together with a group of other “disabled” beggars, some deaf and dumb, they formed Wonder Welders to recycle waste metal to art, with the help of British photographer Paul Joyson-Hicks of Blue Mango Photography, who took an interest in their work. They made sculptures of animals, cars and other items that they could sell on the streets.
Joyson-Hicks funded their move from the streets and also brought in Heather Cumming, a welding expert from Scotland, to train the group.
With the assistance of a local welding expert, they learned how to weld using recycled scrap metal, transforming the waste material into elephants, giraffes, birds and boats, which are sold locally.
The objective of Wonder Welders was two-fold. Getting the group off the streets and engaging them in meaningful economic activity while also promoting and practicing environmental awareness by recycling waste metal to make art.
The converted “junk” is now installed in some roundabouts and parks in the city of Dar es Salaam. Cogs, bolts, exhaust pipes, springs and other pieces are fused to make familiar objects to beautify spaces like hotel gardens, airports and public parks.
The group uses metal from cars, motorbikes, bicycle chains, cutlery and other leftovers of written off items. The collection ranges from smaller pieces to life size lions, hippos and crocodiles, candle holders, and magazine racks. Wonder Welders also produce a selection of photo frames and wooden toys.
“The frames are all made from recycled paper and cardboard collected within the city of Dar es Salaam. The wooden toys are made from renewable Tanzanian wood sources,” said Lindunga.
Lindunga said they rented a house on Haile Selassie Road, in Masaki and converted it into a workshop at an annual rent of Tsh900,000 ($390).
The electricity costs depend on the usage and amount of work to be done, and averages Tsh100,000 ($43.3418) to 150,000 ($ 65.0127) per month.
They get scrap metal from construction company Bam International and also from different people around the city who collect and deliver it to the workshop for free.
Most of the customers are foreigners, and a few locals. “We sell our items from Tsh5,000 ($2) to about Tsh7,000 ($3),” Lindunga said.
They are now eight workers who are fully trained in the use of welding equipment. There is also a proactive campaign to recycle metal to produce imaginative and creative works of art.
“A sculpture of a large giraffe can take up to one month to make from scratch,” Seif said when we visited at their workshop full of scrap metals and the sounds of metal crashing again metal.
In 2017, the Wonder Workshop was registered as non-governmental organisation and changed its name to Liche Art Garage.