Emma Kate Wallace from WEFTshop – Women for Education, Freedom and Textiles, spoke to members.
Emma, who is a trained theatrical tailor, has worked with WEFTshop for six years. After graduating from NIDA she was determined to involve herself in work along the Thai-Burma border camps, particularly wanting to help women. She spends part of the year working on theatrical productions, films, etc and uses her earnings to travel to the refugee camps where most of WEFTshop’s work is done.
From their website:
There are approximately 140,000 ethnic-minority refugees, who have fled human rights abuse in Burma, living in Thailand’s nine camps along the Thai-Burma border. They are dependent on subsistence-level humanitarian assistance and the majority have limited or no means to provide for themselves and their families.
As refugees in this area, they are not legally permitted to work and as Thailand is not a signatory to the UN conventions which protect the rights of refugees, these people are open to exploitation and live in constant fear for their future.
WEFTshop helps to navigate around some of these problems by selling the fine woven items produced by the women and then passing the proceeds back to them and their families.
Weaving traditions go back many centuries in most of the many different ethnic groups from Burma and the hills of Thailand. But having been displaced and forced to live in makeshift camps, they no longer have access to the land and resources they would normally rely on to produce crops for spinning, dyeing and weaving. The people that work with WEFTshop have a wide variety of skills and it is the aim of the group to expand and spread these skills and find economically viable ways of using them to support themselves. This also helps to keep the varied weaving traditions alive among the different ethnic groups.
Textile tour groups are taken to the area from Australia and elsewhere and take part in weaving and spinning workshops, dancing classes and enjoy traditional meals with the WEFTshop partners. These activities raise money and also help to educate people about the situation in the refugee camps and hopefully spread understanding between the people who take part – visitors and locals both.
WEFTshop does not have a shop front to sell their goods from but they often sell at markets and other special events. A small amount of one-off, very fine, high end items are sold in art gallery shops and the like. You can also arrange for a representative to hold a selling party for you and your friends at home. More details about buying products, donating or volunteering can be found at http://weftshop.com/
For the past six years WEFTshop has been voluntarily run by passionate textile and social justice enthusiasts. WEFTshop is now reaching out to the broader textile community for support and interest.
They have organised an eight day tour in which women from a variety of ethnic groups from Burma are going to share their culture in Mae Sot (Thai-Burma border) and Chaing Mai. Highlights will include back strap weaving, appliqué and metal beadwork, natural dyeing in a local village, traditional cooking and dancing, a day trip to Burma, a visit to the Kachin women in Chaing Mai.
There are only eight places available so email your expression of interest sooner rather than later!
When: January 2013
Cost: $1250 approximately includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch, teaching materials and travel around Mae Sot and Chaing Mai
Info: 2012 Textile Tour blog or Emma