Weaving Their Way
Imagine being unjustly exiled from your country and forced to leave family, home, assets and identity behind. Working for a living is out of the question; your new host government does not permit it. Your bank account no longer exists, everyone you know is hundreds of miles away and nearly all communication with the outside world has been severed. This situation is a daily reality for the thousands of refugees along the Thai-Burma border, many of whom were born in the camps and have never known a different life.
There are approximately 20.8 million refugees in the world in need of protection, four out of five of whom are women and children, according to the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. The numbers are daunting, but beyond the statistics it is important to remember that every individual refugee has a compelling and unique story.
The WEAVE women in the Umpiem Mai camp endure difficult conditions to continue their crafts and support their families, yet the small income they earn makes a tangible and vast difference in their quality of life. On a rare sunny day in December, the women managed to come together for a holiday celebration (three of whom are pictured above).
Mu La She is a new arrival to the camps and to WEAVE; and has been embroidering for 6 months. As a new entry to the refugee camp, she is not yet registered and therefore gets no support from the government: her sole income is from her embroidery, and the work enables her to support herself and her family. Nwe Wah, on the other hand, worked on WEAVE’s very first card project fourteen years ago. Even after fourteen years of living day to day in the camps, without many basic rights, Nwe Wah’s resilience shines through: she is quick to smile and crack a joke with the other women. Nan Tin Aye has also been with WEAVE nearly since the beginning, for thirteen years. As a sewer her skills are in high demand: it takes time, practice and patience to learn the craft. Despite her long hours of work she still manages to give back to her community. Every month Nan Tin sets aside a portion of her income for her community savings fund (an emergency support system for the women), and for her church.
For these women, life in the camps is still a daily struggle. It is clear, however, how these women have empowered themselves and grown a strong system of community support as a result of their income from WEAVE. For 18 years, WEAVE has focused on creating innovative projects in order to help improve the lives of these refugee women.
Even before “income generation” and “micro enterprise” became the fashionable terms in international development, WEAVE was already pioneering Economic Empowerment programs. Beginning 18 years ago, working with a handful of women making greeting cards at the camps, WEAVE created a small-scale income generation project. These greeting cards were sold locally and then internationally. Those first cards evolved into larger projects: soon the women were making hand woven scarves, handcrafted bags, home ware and naturally dyed items, expanding the program to encompass over 400 women from 3 different camps on the Thai-Burma Border.
At WEAVE, these women are our heroines. Their work and income provides food, medicine, clothing, shelter and even hope to their families and communities. So this Holiday Season we dedicate this issue to WEAVE’s unsung heroines, who, despite all of their struggles, continue to empower themselves, rebuild their lives and offer hope to women around the globe.
We extend our deepest gratitude to you, our supporters and partners, for helping us make a difference. Happy Holidays!
Publications & Resource Development
- The 2009 WEAVE calendar is complete and ready for distribution! If you would like a free copy of our calendar please contact us. It’s pictured above, in the Mae La refugee camp.
Women’s Capacity Development
- WCD conducted a 3 day advanced sewing training in December with the Sanayathipan Women’s Organization, Kayan Women’s Organization, Thai Karen Women’s Organization and Burmese Women’s Union. The aim of this training is to help develop women’s sewing skills for their income generation projects and their product development and design.
Income Generation Project
- The IGP and WCD team had their annual Holiday Party and evaluation at Mae Ra Moo, Mae La and Umpiem Mai Refugee Camps. The purpose of this annual celebration is three fold, to distribute the dolls from our Doll Program to the children living at the refugee camps, to conduct our annual evaluation of the Income Generation Project and to celebrate the holiday with the women who make our beautiful products.
- The Mae Sot office and shop moved to a new location this month. The new space will incorporate the new WEAVE shop in partnership with Thai Tribal Crafts (please link to their website), WEAVE administration office and a floor dedicated for Training and Development.
- WEAVE’s Mae Sot shop will partner with Thai Tribal Crafts. Thai Tribal Crafts is a member of the Fair Trade Organization and is dedicated to providing safe employment opportunities for improving the quality of life of marginalized people in Northern Thailand.
It’s a gift that gives twice in a community oppressed by years of political and social upheaval.
When you purchase a pair of dolls, one is made and donated to a refugee child.
Stretch your dollar further in ’09
Reap even bigger benefits from yoga in the New Year with an eco-friendly yoga mat carrier in tow. You’ll do your body and the planet good, while supporting refugee women. Coming soon in ’09, stay tuned for this and more new gear!
Special thanks to our sponsors and kindred individuals: Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Netherlands; Terre des Hommes, Germany in Southeast Asia; Refugee International, Japan; EMpower; Global Fund for Children; Stephanie Bernstein; Thai Tribal Craft; Australian Business Volunteers; Greater Good Foundation.
WEAVE accepts donations and grants and will match up funds up to 4,000 baht. Proceeds will be used to fund innovative and supportive projects of women’s and community based organizations that promote development and empowerment.
SHOP for a CAUSE
Shop for Change when you shop WEAVE. With every purchase, you are not only buying a beautifully handcrafted item, but you are also strengthening women’s voices, opportunities, earning power and access to the most critical human needs for women and their families. The full selection of textiles, cards and gifts is available can be viewed in our Picasa online photo album, downloaded as a PDF catalogue or found on our website.
Whether you donate, volunteer, or just want to learn more about WEAVE’s work, there’s a way to get involved. Information about volunteering, contributions and resources about the situation on the Thai-Burma border are all available on our website.