#7: The Lessons of Ban Yahu

Dec. 14, 2009

Two things these trips remind us:
  1. It's good to be flexible because we cannot predict, well enough control, the situations we find ourselves in, and
  2. Our primary purpose is to put money into women's hands, especially poor rural women's hands -- regardless of our policies about production methods and group structures.

We were reminded of these lessons on our trip to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand when, on the spur of the moment, our plans were changed for us. One minute we were spending what was left of the afternoon attending to some bookkeeping and blog writing, and the next we were in the back of a pick-up truck heading up a mountain. After one hour, the truck stopped in a remote village where pigs and toddlers shared a rutted dirt path that ran between a dozen or so buildings.

We climbed down from the truck and up a rickety ladder to a rustic home made from bamboo. Its porch was crowded with women of one of the local ethnic minorities, each clutching a well-used plastic bag.

Inside the plastic bags were loads of beautifully coloured shoulder bags woven from industrial fibres coloured with chemical dyes. Likely the yarns had been bought pre-dyed at one of the many textile shops adjacent to the market in most large towns in Thailand. But the colours were very pleasing, if not natural, the designs were unique and the weaving, done the hard way on a back strap loom, was very competent. Most importantly, right now we were right here and it was clear to us both that there was nowhere that our money could be better spent.

So if you attend one of our shows back in Canada and you see a collection of shoulder bags that look like nothing else in the room, you'll know that they are much more than bags; you'll know that they were our lesson to put those women's needs before our preferences.

Many thanks to Patricia Solar of Izara Arts, who works with village women's groups like this one in the north of Thailand, and who whisked us off in her truck for an ascent to this mountain village. Her work with hilltribe women like these helps them sustain their families. Please visit Izara Arts to learn more about their work.

Alleson (Pii Plaa)