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Silk weaver and weaving group leader,
Bolikhan District, Age 40
Story by Shui Meng Ng
Ms Khampha, now aged 40, is the leader of a group of 14 women weavers in Phiengdi Village, Bolikhan District. The weavers’ group was formed only two years ago when Saoban started working with the village to improve livelihoods among poor rural women through its small and medium business enterprise project.
Khampha and her family had settled in Phiengdi Village only about 10 years ago. Originally hailed from Kham District of Xiengkhoung Province from the northern part of Laos, she and her family had hoped to escape poverty by coming to Phiengdi on the news that agricultural land was available around Phiengdi for those who were willing to open up new lands for farming.
Khampha and her family and a few others in her village and decided to move to take advantage of this offer. They built simple houses at the outer edge of Phiengdi village and cleared land for rice production. Over the next few years, more families, mainly friends and families, of Khampha and her neighbours followed suit and settled in Phiengdi.
Khampha and her family were initially happy about their move. In Phiengdi they had access to more agriculture land which ensured their basic food security as well a little cash income from sale of their excess rice or other food crops like corn and vegetables. Also, they were able to send their four children to a nearby school. She could also earn some additional income by selling her woven products like “skirt-borders” used in traditional Lao skirt in the local market.
However, despite her hard work, the family remained poor. Worse yet, demand for Khampha’s skirt borders at the local market had progressively fallen because of over-supply.
“Two years ago, the village leader called a village meeting and asked the women who knew how to weave whether we would be interested to participate in a project to help us improve the quality of our weaving and build it like a business,” recalled Khampha. “A few of my neighbors and I jumped at the opportunity and indicated our interest.”
Working with the staff of Saoban, Khampha and four other women were organized into a weaving group. Khampha herself was selected by the women as a group leader because of her weaving skills and her seniority in the group. The weaving group attended training in basic understanding about costing, pricing, and quality control and product grading. They also learned about new designs and weaving techniques and how to make natural dyes and the art of dyeing from master weavers and master dyers from Vientiane.
“Before forming the weaving group, each person just wove according to what we thought would sell. But after forming into a group and meeting regularly we came to understand the value of sharing information about what designs sell well, what colors are popular, and learn different weaving techniques and styles from each other”, Khampha explained.
“Now we do not only produce skirt-borders, but also silk shawls of different designs and techniques which sell better at the market”, she continued. As the quality of the weaving improved, the group has been contracted by the district government office to produce table runners as souvenirs for guests of the district government.
As other women see the income generating potential of Khampha and her group, they too asked to join the project. As a result, the group has grown from the original 5 members to 14 members. At the same time, staff of Saoban have continued to help the group develop new weaving designs and products and link the group to buyers in Vientiane and overseas who operate on “fair trade” principles so that the weavers get a fair price for their work. Saoban also arranged for Khampha and her group to visit other weaving communities to share experiences and exhibit their products at trade fairs or crafts fairs to broaden their marketing links.
To meet the increased demand, Khampha now out-sources some of the weaving to a new member of the group. She provides her with all the raw materials and pays her on an agreed piece-rate. “Now I make about 1,000,000 kip per month. The increased earnings have made my life a little better than before, Khampha said smiling. “I am glad that my wife can earn money from weaving,” chimed in Boualiene her farmer husband. “Frankly most of our household expenses such as medical fees, school fees, fuel for the motorbike, and other household expenses are from Khampha’s weaving”, he said. Like most Lao farmers agriculture production is mainly for household consumption, and only a small amount is sold for cash.
“If I and my group members continue to work hard and improve the sale of our woven products we can make more income and improve our lives”, Khampha added. Her greatest wish now is to see her youngest son complete high schooling. Another wish she has is to upgrade the family motorbike to a small car so that they can get around more conveniently.
A social enterpriseSaoban is a member of PADETC, a Lao NGO that integrates socially sustainable programs in education, agriculture, micro-finance, handcrafts and community leadership.
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