My name is Claire. I recently returned from a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I volunteered as part of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) Program for a development organisation (Women’s Education for AdVancement and Empowerment – WEAVE) that works with Karen refugee women in Mae La and Umpiem Mai camps on the Thai-Burma border.
During my time in Thailand I visited the camps and met with the women that work as part of WEAVE’s Income Generation Project. The women make Karen textile handicrafts that are sold on their behalf by WEAVE. The program provides the women an opportunity for stable employment and a fair wage, in addition to an avenue through which to maintain and promote the Karen cultural heritage.
The women I met appeared a strong and brave bunch. Many have been living hard lives within the confines of the camps for the 19 years the project has been running. The oppressive and violent rule of the military junta in Burma forced them to flee their homes and country, and means they cannot return while the situation remains unchanged. Many are awaiting resettlement to third countries. In the meantime, these women do their best to look after themselves and their families.
When I visited the camps it was December, the coldest part of the year. The sun shone but the air was cold, even though it was midday. I wore the warmest clothes I had with me, a scarf and would have worn a beanie if I had had one. Seeing the women skillfully working their back strap looms on the floors of their bamboo huts, sewing on treadle machines and painstakingly embroidering textiles by hand, I was struck by how hard the working conditions are for the women, and how difficult it must be for them. I remember coaxing my cold, stiff fingers into writing in a notebook for future reference: “get the women warm.”
Returning to the privileged and wealthy shores of home in Australia, I got to thinking of what simple and achievable thing I might do to meet just one need of the women I was lucky enough to come into contact with during my time away… and this is it, for now.
There are approximately 50 women currently working as part of WEAVE’s IGP. I want anyone who feels the urge, to put their skills and enthusiasm to the task of making a scarf (or several) for one of these women. Scarves will be sent to me, who will collate them and send them to WEAVE in Thailand, to deliver to the women during the celebratory end of year visit in the camps.