By Sarah Matsushita, Income Generation Project volunteer
The “Grand Re-Launching” of our Fair Trade Shop in Mae Sot was a big success last Friday night! With guests from all over the world, the event began with a dramatic opening, followed by a colorful fashion show of new WEAVE products and the official opening of the WEAVE Gallery.
Guests were ushered into the candle-lit shop with the sounds of a baby crying in the background. They heard a woman’s voice explain the responsibility and struggle a woman faces to protect her children throughout their lives. “The Karen women of Burma share this responsibility with women around the world, yet many Karen and other ethnic women hold a heavier burden when they must flee from their own country because of violence and oppression by the Burmese military junta. They navigate difficult territory on foot for days and wait, pleading for refuge in the nearest country. Some receive support from aid agencies, while others struggle to survive as migrants in border towns.”
Guests learned how WEAVE’s Income Generation Project has provided opportunities to refugee and migrant women from Burma, using traditional Karen handicraft techniques, such as the loom or unique embroidery, to make modern products. “These artisans are regaining much needed self-esteem, restoring their dignity and their sense of purpose. And a clear vision that one day their dream to live in a place where they can call home will become a reality.”
We were honored to have Naw Tin Aye from Umpiem Mai camp give a heartwarming message in Karen, describing her role at WEAVE and the opportunities IGP has made possible for her. She has been working with IGP since 1995 and helps train artisans to follow WEAVE’s high quality work.
With guests from all over the world, WEAVE showcased over 10 new items in the fashion show. Models came from all over, including special guests from Umpiem Mai Camp, WEAVE Mae Sot staff and their children, America and Denmark.
The opening of WEAVE’s new Gallery was followed by the debut of the IGP video. The powerful images of the oppression and violence perpetrated by the Burmese military junta were followed by field interviews with women in refugee camps sharing their brave stories about struggling to escape Burma. The video included the mission of IGP and its impact on refugee and migrant women and their families. One guest remarked of its emotional impact, “It gave me goosebumps.”
The Gallery walls were adorned with stunning photographs of women and children in various refugee camps, along the Thai-Burma Border. Many of the photographs were taken by WEAVE’s own Arthit Wongnithisathaporn, who captured the spirit and vitality of Karen culture.
These framed photographs are available for sale, with proceeds supporting WEAVE’s programs.
Following the video presentation, guests enjoyed Thai and Burmese snacks and drinks, while mingling with WEAVE staff from all three offices, overseas guests, local NGO workers and friends from around Thailand.
I loved that many people came in ethnic attire- from many different states in Burma including Shan, Mon and Karen, northern Thailand and from a southern ethnic group in the Philippines. I was very lucky to wear a beautiful blue Karen dress, borrowed from my generous coworker Pi Kaw Kaw.
I was very proud to be part of such a professional and heartwarming event. It’s motivated me even more to continue looking for new ways to market WEAVE’s handicrafts and provide more opportunities to displaced women from Burma.