Die Werkswinkel (The Workshop) was opened in 1993 to service an increasing community of disabled persons in Knysna. It provides work for some 45 men and women with disabilities ranging from mild mental disturbances to disabled persons in wheelchairs.
Simon Mangaliso, 44, sat at home doing nothing for nine years after a shooting accident left him paralysed from the waste down. But one day the special mini-van fitted to accommodate his wheelchair stopped at his home to pick him up for work.
His job at Die Werkswinkel in Knysna is stencilling pictures on fabric, which in turn will be turned into bags and clothing, which can be sold at a Main Street stall.
Mangaliso is one of more than 40 disabled persons whose lives have been transformed after joining Die Werkswinkel, which was started as a project to uplift physically disabled people in Knysna. "It is much better than sitting at home. I have friends who are all in a similar situation, and I also earn a bit of money," said Mangaliso.
Workshop manager Basil Lahoud said providing work for the disabled meant more than just providing them with a small income. "For some people it has become a very social time. They have made friends, regained their confidence and see some purpose for a life that at some stage seemed meaningless. We also have a social worker that ensures that the physical, mental and psychological needs of the people here are attended to."
Lahoud said the project received most of its funding from state subsidies and donations, but was hoping to become more self-sufficient. "We are inviting businesses and organisations to enter into contracts with us for products such as outdoor furniture, display cabinets, children's furniture, restoration projects, basket-weaving products, school products and wooden toys. We are open to negotiation and designs - as long as our machinery allows for it - and can probably supply more than what people expect. They are more than welcome to visit us opposite the Hornlee Primary School or to phone us with queries."
Lahoud said government funding paid for small salaries for the people who worked there, but hoped that larger contracts would enable to pay them more. "There was a time when the shop in Main Street made a good profit, but competition from other stallholders on the square have taken its toll. We hope that a few good contracts will make us self-sufficient again," he said.
Die Werkswinkel also recently started a Roll-In Shop where disabled people can buy products and aids to assist them. "Assistive devices include wheelchairs, walking frames, transfer boards, card holders, dressing hooks and nappies."
Run by a committee from the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities, the workshop produces wood and fabric products including furniture, toys, clothing and fabric school products such as book and pencil bags.