Prae Pan Group: carrying on tradition

At the end of December 2007, we visited Prae Pan Group in the Thailand's Northeast. Two long-standing board members joined us at the Khon Kaen shop and office, assisting with translation, deepening our understanding of the group and helping us train staff to fill orders and ship to Canada, building the group's marketing capacity.

Last year we had the good fortune (and great help of one of their board members who we met again this year) to visit four of the villages where Prae Pan members live and work. Those of you who have attended one of our slide presentations will remember the photos I took of natural dyeing experiments and weaving at traditional looms.

[Note: These photos are part of a 45-minute presentation that tells the story of our visits to women's weaving co-ops in Northeast Thailand. Learn about natural dyeing, the cycle of silk production, fair trade and the benefits of membership for village women. Contact us at if you are interested in this presentation for your group.]

This year we presented a gift of these photos to the group, as well as a hardcover book to tell the visual story of their work (with additional English descriptions of each activity written by Alleson.) Our idea was that this book can be used by the group to give Prae Pan customers a glimpse into the work behind each piece -- especially helpful if they can't speak Thai. As well, we presented them with a 6 minute self-running digital slideshow called Social Fabric which the group can also use to tell their story. Both promotional aids were received with enthusiasm!

A few of the things we learned on this visit:

1. The 18-year-old group has revolving credit pools, pension and medical benefits and an educational fund.
2. The number of members has varied over this period; currently there are about 120 members living in 7 villages in the province.
3. Although the group began with help from the Appropriate Technology Association of Thailand, it met its goal of being self-sufficient more than 10 years ago. This member-run community business now owns its own shop, and staffs it full-time, in the main city in the province. It is able to provide its members a regular income, sufficient for daily consumption, that supplements most members' principal income from rice farming.
4. Staff and members are villagers who have learned a range of new skills and gained confidence over the years through their involvement with the group. They are very proud of their accomplishments.
5. A village-based co-operative brings benefits to weavers' families and other non-members in the communities.
6. One of the biggest challenges the group faces is how to interest the next generation in carrying on the traditions and skills of their mothers. It's important to the leaders of the group to inspire the new generation to preserve and build on artistic, creative cultural traditions and create new ones. By buying from them, we hope to contribute to the sustainability of this group so that younger women will know they can make money at this work and will want to continue it.

We were invited to return to Khon Kaen in early January to attend a monthly committee meeting. We eagerly agreed and joined the 18-person committee for a delicious, Isaan breakfast feast, then we presented our business, the Prae Pan book and digital slideshow CD to board members and village representatives, again to an enthusiastic reception.

As well, we spoke about our offer to help Prae Pan (as volunteers) develop a new, more marketing-focused website with help from American and Thai community development students at Khon Kaen University. On the following day, we attended an initial meeting at KKU, along with 2 Prae Pan staff members and 1 board member, to explore how we can work together on this project. What started a year ago as an offer from us has now moved into its next phase.

And before we left, we placed a large silk order, shipped cotton fabric and table linens home to Canada, and chose samples for a possible new TAMMACHAT customer. Our fair trade relationship with Prae Pan continues to grow.

Ellen/Luk Nok