More books for Lao children

Our third "book party" was held in Ban Namkhor, Laos on Jan. 4, 2012. Thanks to the enthusiastic young staff at Big Brother Mouse, who make these school-based events possible, TAMMACHAT donated 260 books to children at the local school.

For each textile piece we sell, we donate a new book to a child in Laos in partnership with Big Brother Mouse, a Lao-owned project that promotes literacy in the Lao language. This now makes 750 books that we've donated in late 2011 and 2012 to help children in rural Laos learn that reading is fun and rewarding; we have 2 more book parties in the works, thanks to our customers' support.

You can sponsor a book party yourself or the publication of a new book. It's a great way to honour someone, celebrate your birthday or just because.

I love the photos of the kids with their very first books -- fun ones too that help them experience the joy of reading!

For more photos of Big Brother Mouse book parties, see our posts from:
  • Jan. 4, 2012 (book parties held Oct. 26 and Dec. 6, 2011)
  • March 15, 2011 (our photo essay of our 2011 time with Big Brother Mouse in Laos)


Flood relief: helping women in Thailand

The effects of the worst floods in 50 years continue to be felt throughout Thailand. More than 700 people lost their lives. Hundreds of factories closed; some still are. Prices are higher across the board.

In response to this crisis, we decided in October 2011 to donate 10% of all TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles’ show revenues in November to Thai flood relief.

Flooded worker (photo: HomeNet Thailand)
While the producer groups with whom we work are not in the central areas most severely impacted by the months of floods, our close watch of events made us aware of the millions who were.

When we arrived in Thailand in December, we contacted  HomeNet Thailand to see if our donation could help them in their work. On previous trips we had visited their office in the north of Bangkok (one of the areas hit by the floods) to meet with the Director, Poonsap Tulaphan, who has also been involved for decades with one of the weaving co-operatives with whom we work.

HomeNet (aka: Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion)  helps women in the informal sector, including home-based workers, temporary labourers, part-time workers and others who are easy prey to the unscrupulous power of the marketplace. In this era of corporations that contract out production and rationalize supply chains for just-in-time deliveries, workers like those that HomeNet supports bear the impact of these so-called “economic efficiencies.”

HomeNet works with about 200 groups in Thailand whose members total more than 7,000. These workers not only suffer the pressure and insecurity that result from payment by the piece; they must also supply their own workplaces and equipment.

We learned that HomeNet is currently working with more than 20 groups on the outskirts of Bangkok whose 400+ members were directly affected by the recent floods. Many of these are handicraft producers, but also include groups whose members do piece-work sewing and sweets-making. The floods not only displaced their families; they also damaged their equipment and supplies.

As a result, HomeNet is providing these groups more than 1 million baht (approx. $33,000 CAD) for microcredit loans to replace equipment damaged or destroyed in the floods. TAMMACHAT’s donation went into this fund to provide loans to women that are essential to restart their work --- without resorting to usurious moneylenders. When members are again producing, they will repay their loans to the group so that other members can also re-capitalize their home-based businesses.

Our contribution is a small step towards helping those facing huge losses. Thanks to TAMMACHAT’s customers for their support.

Alleson and Ellen

Fair trade fibre art and art quilt samplers

While we usually trade with weaving groups directly, we occasionally buy from other organizations that share our values and vision. Sop Moei Arts, with showrooms in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, is a case in point.

Sop Moei Arts is a self-supporting, non-profit organization that grew out of a public health project founded in 1977 and funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). In its first decade, the project focused on maternal and children’s health of Pwo Karen villagers in the remote Sop Moei district of Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand. During this time there were no other health facilities in the area. Indeed there were no roads and the only access available was by boat, elephant or a trek on foot.

More than 30 years later, the project has grown to provide a fair income for hundreds of Pwo Karen villagers while preserving women’s traditional textile weaving and men’s basketry skills. We've known of this project for years, but have only recently discovered sampler packs of their fabrics to share with art quilters and other fibre artists in our part of the world.

Handwoven textile samplers from Sop Moei Arts

While the Pwo Karen weavers do not use natural dyes, their strong patterns -- re-interpretations of Pwo Karen traditional fabrics -- are perfect for incorporating into art quilts or fibre art projects of all kinds. The packs of six or seven small squares, measuring 5" x 5", combined with three larger squares of 6 3/4" offer palettes in oranges, reds, blues, greens or tans.

These will be available, along with other samplers of hand-reeled, naturally dyed, organic silks, at our booth in the Merchant Mall at Quilt Canada 2012 from May 29 - June 2, 2012 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Check our website for details.

PSST:  Those interested in children's books and education might find interesting this video that documents a bilingual education program for Pwo Karen in Thailand.

Ellen and Alleson

Is TAMMACHAT a charity?

We’re often asked if TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles is a charity. And if not, why not? Our answer is that we are a social enterprise: a venture that uses market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose, whose bottom line is to benefit people and the planet rather than to maximize profit.

The artisan groups that create our products are also social enterprises. They provide more than income to their participants. Many were formed in the era of empowering women through self‑help groups. They often provide environmental awareness through training in natural dyes and composting methods, numeracy skills and micro-credit, consciousness raising and Tleadership opportunities.

A village-based Eri silk rearing and weaving group in Central Thailand

From the beginning, the weaving groups with whom we partner have told us that to continue their work they need to expand their sales, especially into markets they otherwise could not access. They want trade, not aid. Our chance meeting with the first artisan group led us to understand their achievements and barriers, which in turn prompted us to create a fair trade business to help them achieve their goals.

A "train-the-trainer" workshop with Prae Pan Group in NE Thailand

By paying fair prices, shouldering the cost (and risk) of credit and applying our skill sets to their marketing problems, we are empowering women to sustain their families, communities and environments. Just as important to us, is the fact that we are assisting women to continue their beautiful weaving traditions. We view our work as a passion project; our passion drives us on, in spite of the challenging economic realities that we, too, face in the marketplace.

A weaver at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre in Laos

At the same time, we recognize the value of charitable giving – both to mitigate disasters and to give those in need a hand up. Understandably, we make donations to organizations that share our values and inspire our generosity. These include:
  • Books for kids in Laos:
    We support the work of Big Brother Mouse, a vibrant book publishing venture in Laos that brings highly illustrated books to children to make literacy fun. For each textile we sell, we donate a book to a child in Laos through this project. More about Big Brother Mouse in our blog post of Jan. 4, 2012.
  • Flood relief to help women in Thailand:
    Following this year’s devastating floods in Thailand (the worst in 50 years), we decided to donate 10% of our sales from our November 2011 shows to help women affected by the floods. This donation went to Homenet Thailand (now known as Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion), which supports home-based women workers and others in the informal sector. (More on this in a coming blog post.)
  • Alice Housing silent auction and other fundraising events:
    We regularly donate a handwoven textile to the annual fundraising event to support abused women and children in Alice Housing, a transition house in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We also support various other organizations in our community with similar donations.
  • Assisting displaced peoples from Burma:
    Many displaced peoples – whose villages have been destroyed by the Burmese Army – suffer from inadequate housing during the cold weather months. This year we realized that we could use our checked luggage allowance to address this need. With help from neighbours and friends in Nova Scotia, we gathered donations of blankets and warm clothing. These went in early December to those in need, including many children, through a relief organization, the Displaced Persons Response Network, we met that works in the borderlands of Burma and Thailand.
We continue to be introduced to additional organizations that do charitable work here. Even though Thailand is a “newly industrialized country,” needs persist here in many sectors. It seems that each organization we meet is involved with an income generation project to help people, particularly women, earn money for their families. We’ll be meeting soon with several of these groups to see if we can work together. One of the many barriers is an understanding of which products sell in different markets (especially niche markets). At the very least, we will share with them our experiences of building markets in Canada, the US and the UK for handcrafted textiles.

Ellen and Alleson

TAMMACHAT customers buy books for Lao kids

For every textile piece we sell, we donate a brand new book to a child in Laos. But these aren't just any books. They're published by a vibrant and growing book publishing project called Big Brother Mouse, based in Luang Prabang, Laos. Entirely Lao owned, this project began when a visiting American retired book publisher noticed the lack of books in Laos. He sought out and teamed up with some bright and dedicated young Lao college students and continues to act as volunteer advisor to this day as part of the Big Brother Mouse team.

Because it's our customers who make these donations possible, we're eager to share the following email that we've  received from Big Brother Mouse:

"We recently held a book party, and set up a book swap (what we call a mini-library), using the donation you made to Big Brother Mouse, on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 in Ban Nangiu. Here are a few pictures from that day. At the end of the party all the kids got a free book of their own, nearly always the first book they've ever owned. Then we left more books with the school, so they can trade their book for a different one after they've read it. We left a total of 288 books.

"It was an exciting day for all of the children, and we expect many of them will always remember it -- both because they had fun, and for the magic of opening a fun book for the first time, and discovering the new world that opens up. Thank you for making this possible!"

TAMMACHAT's second book party this season was held Dec. 6th in Ban Kok Ngiu. In this smaller village school, a total of 202 books were donated.

We've seen for ourselves the bright and enthusiastic Lao men and women who animate the activities at these rural book parties. For the children present, it may be not only the first time they've discovered that books can be fun, but also shows a wider range of possible jobs that they themselves might hold one day.

For more on Big Brother Mouse's work, visit their website. Take some time and poke around. You can also sponsor your own book party (in honour of someone's birthday, to commemorate an event or just because it's a great thing to do to promote literacy in a developing country) or sponsor the publishing of a new book.

Read our blog entry from last year's amazing (and mountainous) cycling trip of Big Brother Mouse supporters and staff. And enjoy these photos from our first 2 book parties where the joys of reading are introduced, along with books to each child in a village school. Three more TAMMACHAT-sponsored book parties will be held in the coming months.

We thank all our TAMMACHAT customers for making this possible!

Ellen and Alleson