A couple of months ago, I walked into a fair trade shop called Borderline, looking for connections to local handicrafts. In seeking income opportunities for the mothers we work with, we know it is always better to make connections with experienced people rather than reinventing the wheel. I bought a ball of handspun, organic, blue yarn up to the counter and asked the assistant if she had any information about the label “Chimmuwa”. She smiled and said, “Why don’t you ask the founder? She’s right over there.”
The founder of Chimmuwa, Sylvia, invited me over on-the-spot to check out her workshop. She poured green tea in flared china cups as I peppered her with questions. I learned that when Sylvia had originally come to Mae Sot about twenty years ago, she had helped her organization’s housekeeper become trained in sewing. “We didn’t think too much about money in those days. We just did it.” Sylvia now employs five sewers full-time and many other weavers in surrounding areas.
I worked up the nerve to ask Sylvia if she would like to help employ one of the women served by Compasio. This particular woman understands basic weaving, but her son has polio and requires a lot of attention. She lacks income and cannot travel away from home. Sylvia agreed to go to this woman and look at her work. After this initial meeting, they agreed to work together, and a follow-up was scheduled for today.
There were a few problems with the finished pieces. The threads were broken and not prepared correctly; this lady was not used to the difficulty of working with organic cotton, and it showed in the final product.
When I asked Sylvia what product she would use this for, she answered, “I am not sure. It is a smaller size than what we usually use. We might have to cut it up and use pieces of it, but we will not be able to use it all.”
Not relenting, I asked about quality control standards. She nodded and said, “We have to do this patiently. We want to encourage her for what she has done. We cannot jump into criticizing today. If she enjoys this work and wants to work with us, we will teach her how to do this the right way.”
In addition to the first weaver, two other women were given work today. They were given hope and a bit of purpose. I, myself, have been infused with a bit of that magic of inspiration and a challenge to just reach out to whomever I can; to whomever is there. Sylvia’s generosity is reaching out to change the communities here in Thailand one person at a time.
Sara Harvel is one of Compasio’s capacity builders working at our Mae Sot, Thailand, location, and helping to develop sustainable work options for women in our communities.