For Karen people who live in temporary shelters (refugee camps) on the Thai-Burma borders for the last 20 years, life can be very hard. The everyday challenges of poverty and life as a refugee are compounded by a number of other problems, including over-crowding, poor nutrition and sanitation, lack of economic opportunity, inability to work outside the refugee camps, and a highly competitive labour market. However, in the 3 Karen refugee camps in Tak and Mae Hong Son Provinces, change is taking place as a result of the support extended by Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment (WEAVE).
The Income Generation Project, which began in late 1990s, works directly with over 300 refugee women artisans (currently approximately 150 women) in the design and development of beautifully hand-woven crafts and provides regular safe income. WEAVE being a member of Fair-Trade Federation, ensures that women are protected from labor exploitation and exposure to protection risks.
The project is steering funds and opportunities toward initiatives that refugee women project participants deem most important, such as community savings, as contribution to community development activities and special celebrations, health assistance, mortuary contribution. The project also conducts on the-job-training that is linked to textile-handicraft industry (weaving, sewing and embroidery). In 2006, the project started to support poor women’s organizations by contributing to innovative small business development activities through its alternative livelihood component such as vegetable growing, dried fish production (food processing) and jewelry making (pearl), to mention a few.
Since the onset of the project, the women project participants are involved in the decision making process on what needs to be done. The project realizes that it is very important to link human development efforts to local community structures in order to ensure its sustainability and long-term viability. For the most vulnerable women, the project is translating into more work opportunities, a better living environment and steadier start to life despite the challenges they face as refugees/displaced persons.