Clearing out the shed isn’t usually one of our favourite pastimes. However, there are men (and women) in Africa who can use our old tools, to earn a living. And they’re getting them, thanks to Tools with a Mission.

Bob is from Uganda. His mother is dead and his father is violent and often drunk.  He has two young brothers to look after.  He had no option but to join a street gang, but now he wants to escape before it is too late.

Purit is a young girl from Zambia who has lost both her parents.  She has never been to school and has young brothers and sisters to look after, so she has been dragged into appalling sex work. 

Hansuna is a military policeman who lives in a slum compound in Lusaka, Zambia. He sees hundreds of children who have no hope of ever getting an education. So he wants to help open and fund a school.  

We’ve all heard stories like these. Most of us would love to make a positive difference in the world, but the problems we see around us just seem too insurmountable. It all seems hopeless and we may be tempted to throw our hands in the air and walk away. Bob, Purit and Hanusa have all been helped by people just like us, thanks to the work of Tools with a Mission (TWAM), a Christian charity based in Ipswich, Suffolk. 

Purit (centre) with friends in Zambia

TWAM – with the support of over 500 volunteers in the UK, and nearly 200 in Africa – collects unwanted usable tools, refurbishes them, sorts them into trade kits and sends them to Africa to equip training centres, and to give out to trainees when they complete their courses. 

Bob was reached out to by a Baptist pastor, who walked the streets at night talking to the lost and despairing street kids.  He asked Bob what he really wanted to do, and he said, “Make shoes”.  So the pastor asked TWAM for a shoemaker’s kit and arranged training for Bob. He now has a small shop where he lives with his brothers. He joined the church and is now in the worship group. That’s all he wanted, and that’s all it took.  

Purit was offered a place on a tailoring course by a Christian charity. They also provided counselling, prayer –and a huge amount of love.  When she graduated, she received a TWAM sewing machine and walked away from sex work forever. All it took was a donated sewing machine.

Hanusa was a carpenter; he asked TWAM for a carpentry workshop kit. For the past three years he has used all his spare time to make furniture to sell on behalf of the school. As a result, 90 children are being educated, clothed and fed. 


TWAM sends over 12,500 toolkits and machines to Africa every year, including 3,500 sewing machines, 700 carpentry kits, 190 carpentry workshop kits and 350 mechanic’s kits. In total around half a million tools are sent each year; this will reach one million in the next few years. Many of those tools were headed for landfill, but now they transform lives.

The process starts in Africa with local people, seeing the needs of their community and being challenged by God to help meet them. Crucially, these people want to take ownership of their community’s problems and sort them out together. So they make their plans to open skills centres and schools and then apply to TWAM for the tools that make it happen. Over 400 groups are supplied every year, in DR Congo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Malawi and Tanzania will be added in 2023.

Graham refurbishing tools in Ipswich

The next step is getting the tools. TWAM receive thousands of requests every year from people across the UK offering to donate tools. They have around 250 volunteer Tool Ambassadors who collect them, along with church groups and small businesses. Lots of people donate as a result of bereavement.  So often they hear a widow saying, “My husband loved his tools, but the kids don’t want them and it would break his heart if I threw them away – would you please take them?” Taking the time to explain how the tools will be used and cherished in Africa brings huge comfort, and is a ministry in itself.

Then volunteer-led vans collect the tools and machines and bring them to the two TWAM Refurbishment Centres in Ipswich and Rugby.  In both of these centres, and a small specialist workshop in Halstead, over 180 volunteers refurbish and sort the tools into trade kits. It’s not just tools – materials such as nails, screws, cotton and knitting wool are also included, as funds to buy these in Africa are scarce.

There’s an ecological benefit too. TWAM reuse and recycle around 405 tonnes of unwanted tools a year, preventing them ending up in landfills. This saves around 1,134 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, according to a Defra report, and avoids soil and water pollution.

Tools that are too damaged for refurbishment are sold to a local waste management company where the metal is fragmentised and shredded, after which it can be melted down and reused. 

Volunteer collector Stephen


It is not just about transforming lives in Africa. The majority of TWAM’s volunteers are men, many retired. They feel they have little to talk about, because they have less activity in their lives, a common problem among retirees. Volunteering for TWAM can provide a welcome sense of purpose.

This is also why TWAM Local Groups are so important, as it allows volunteers to get together wherever they live in the UK to collect tools, sort them, do basic refurbishment and even go out speaking and promoting TWAM in their area. 

Stephen is a collector who finds joy in volunteering. ”I love the very random nature of calls. One day I can be called to pick up chisels which a regular supporter sharpens and fits into home-turned handles, and then the next, I can be picking up sewing machines from three adjoining towns. It gives me the opportunity to meet many generous and thoughtful people. Despite what you might think if you read the press, there is a lot of goodwill in this world!”

One of the key people in the whole process is Sheldon, the Ipswich Refurbishment Centre Apprentice. Sheldon has been with TWAM for three years. He started out as a volunteer, helping to sort all the incoming tools. When the team saw how efficiently he worked, he was offered a permanent position.

Sheldon – apprentice and soon-to-be Centre Supervisor

Sheldon will be completing his apprenticeship in March this year, after which he will become the Refurbishment Centre Supervisor. It’s a role with a lot of responsibility, but he fully commits to each task and makes sure it’s done well. “TWAM gave me an opportunity I never thought I would have. It’s become a family to me. I really enjoy the variety of jobs here. One minute, you can be sorting incoming tools, and the next, you are loading a container. This keeps the role interesting and worthwhile.”


Many of the training centres that receive these tools assist people who have experienced extreme suffering. There is a high level of instability in many African countries. This is especially true in DR Congo, where rebel militia groups roam the country terrorising towns and villages, committing unspeakable atrocities.

Didier is from Kasaï, a region in DR Congo that experienced a large-scale rebellion in 2017. Civilians were slaughtered in their thousands, and nearly 1.4 million people were displaced, including 850,000 children. This led to an extreme hunger crisis in the region, as subsistence farmers couldn’t plant crops.

Didier was working at a mill when a rebel group descended upon his town. He heard gunshots in the distance and looked outside to see the town governor’s soldiers filling the streets. He managed to escape, found a truck heading to the southern city of Lubumbashi, and then crossed the border into Zambia. Didier was now totally alone, incredibly vulnerable and would almost certainly see his life head down the same tragic path as Bob’s. But everything changed when he found the Mentra Youth Carpentry Group. He already had basic carpentry skills, so the group agreed to teach him until he was capable enough to start making furniture on his own. 

Two years after fleeing his country, Didier is now a skilled carpenter who is passing his skills on to other trainees in the group using tools received from TWAM. He is also able to make money selling the things that he makes, earning enough to support himself and his new family – his wife and child. His ambition goes further: “I have plans to open my own carpentry workshop one day. I want to give other people the same tools and skills that gave me everything when I had nothing.”

Tools with a Mission does what it says on the tin. The idea is so simple: to collect unwanted tools, refurbish them and send them to Africa – to train people and equip them with the tools they need. 


TWAM can’t do what they do without donated tools and volunteers to bring them in. They’re aiming to send 24 containers to Africa over the course of 2023. So, if we can, there are practical ways of responding to the needs of others.

DONATE TOOLS: At you can find a list of tools most in need, and also a local collector via the postcode checker. They always need carpentry and mechanical tools: chisels, files, hammers, drills, planes, saws, sockets, spanners and screwdrivers, Sewing and knitting machines are always in demand too. 

VOLUNTEER: You can explore the opportunities for helping transform the lives of others at You can be a Tool Ambassador, collecting the tools that transform lives in your area. Or maybe start a TWAM Local Group.

FUND A KIT: A carpentry kit for someone like Hansuna costs £40. Visit

Candy O'Donovan

Candy is an editor and proofreader and also looks after all things advertising for Sorted. She’s also a part-time gardener/fence-builder/decorator. When not working, she’s usually ringing church bells, paddleboarding or thinking up quiz questions.

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