Richard turns new page in gap year project

(1) A blind weaver at work in the textile mill

Oxleas' Director of Finance, Richard Page, recently returned from a five week sabbatical in Malawi during which he undertook a consultancy project with a textile mill run for people with disabilities. The consultancy was coordinated by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

“When I left university” says Richard, “ I did what is now called a gap year with VSO in Malawi, and here I am 44 years later doing what is almost a gap between working and retiring; and back in the same country.”

The factory is run by MACOHA (Malawi Council for the Handicapped) and was set up about 30 years ago to train and employ people with disabilities. The staff of over a hundred make a range of textile products, ranging from school uniforms, through screen printing, tie-dying, hand spinning and the weaving of rugs. Richard told us that the main problem was that the factory was making a huge loss and so was absorbing a large percentage of the MACOHA government funding instead of making a surplus to help re-invest in new employment projects. His project was to undertake a guided self-assessment which would be the basis for deciding what longer term help VSO could offer in building knowledge and skills capacity.

He set up a short term recovery plan for marketing and sales and is hoping to be able to do further work with them next year. “Hopefully I will be able to do some more work to get their sales and production up so they can start to be financially self-sustaining – and once I have retired from NHS I will be able to spend more time there.”

Richard is due to retire at this year’s Annual Members’ Meeting on Wednesday 28 September.

Photo caption

A blind weaver at work in the textile mill

Published on 27th January 2011