The Cloud x British Council
Where does violence leave us?
Violence rages in the three conflicted border provinces of Southern Thailand, affecting not only the men fighting, but also the mothers, wives, daughters, or sisters left behind. The consequences of such violence can linger in the everyday lives of these women for days, months, or even years.
They are not just losing their loved ones, but also taking on new responsibilities. Their roles change from housewives to heads of their family. Such a role change comes with additional worries including finding a way to feed their children.
In the heart of Pattani, a small shop called “Wanita Business Centre for Communities” has emerged. It is a shop that collects and sells handmade goods crafted by local women. The produce on sale is not limited to handmade goods only. One can find almost anything that reflects the lifestyle and culture of women in this area. The shop has also expanded to make all products available for online purchasing.
Before we go shopping, let’s explore how an inspirational organisation such as Wanita works. How this organisation sparks a fire in these ladies which leads to something so wondrous, even though it is fuelled by their tears.
Wanita originated from OXFAM; a non-profit organisation based in the UK that assists people during severe situations. In combination with the Academic Coordination Centre to Assist Those Affected by the Unrest in the Southern Border Provinces, from the Prince of Songkla University in Pattani, Wanita was established.
The turmoil across southern border provinces shows little sign of resolution, so OXFAM decided to focus on improving the economy of the region. The belief was that if the economy got better, the lives of the local women would also improve. Several studies have suggested that if a family’s income is managed by a woman, in particular, the mother, it will be beneficial for all family members with a focus on feeding and educating the children of the household.
“The women here are shy and do not dare to speak to strangers. The husbands are the ones who generally provide for the family. However, if the wives can also provide for the family, they will be better accepted and the husbands will listen to them more, simply because their wives can support the family just as well as they can.”— Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
Women who participate in the project are locals from the three southern border provinces and from four red-zone districts in Songkhla, namely Jana, Natawee, Sabayoi, and Tepa. Most members are housewives and not wealthy. They do, however, possess skills such as sewing, cooking, and basketry. They have all lost the person who provided for their family, leading to a need to adapt and find a way to provide for their families themselves.
“We believe that there is a power inside everybody. It is just that they do not believe in themselves. The first thing we do is give them support to help them face the challenges of the world. We hold an orientation meeting and seminars where they can talk and build the courage and confidence to transform from someone who is too shy to sell anything, to someone who can own the stage.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
Peace from Products
A housewife from Pattani had lost her husband. She became depressed and locked herself in her house for three years before receiving help and eventually getting better. She adapted to a new lifestyle and met many new people while learning the various techniques involved in sewing Batik bags. Today, she has progressed so much that she is now the leader of the women’s handmade product group in her village.
“When people lose someone, they cling to the past and memories. Sewing a bag for a couple of hours may help them forget about that for a while. It may even turn into something fun for them and that will make their life easier. We do not need a definitive indicator to tell us what happiness is, but we know that their happiness here is real. They get to meet friends here and they can make money after every delivery.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
The head of Wanita told us that they work with various groups of people because tragedy has no preference in its victims. It can happen to anyone. That is why Wanita works with all women, from any religion or background.
“Let’s be real. I don’t think we need to talk about the situation anymore. It gets repetitive. It’s boring. We don’t know for sure who kills who in these conflicted areas. It can be problematic at first but they become friends eventually. Each orientation is like a gathering of mothers and their friends. They make peace. Most conversations are about ordering products. They want to know how to sew. How will they make a sale? It’s like everyone has their own business and money and that brings happiness into their lives.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
After years of working as part of OXFAM, the project has gained support from various other organisations including the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. Their support has helped to create additional stability for Wanita, overseeing an expansion from 30 to 56 enterprises.
These groups play a huge role in creating jobs that utilise skills such as cooking, basketry, crafting clothing, and making souvenirs. Wanita has helped to push these groups forward and encouraged them to improve themselves in any way possible. In addition, Wanita has also purchased the products created by these groups and put them on sale both in their store in Pattani and online. Each group can also sell their products independently to help boost their growth and income.
Wanita’s leader told us the organisation’s four main objectives:
- To build on the potential in all women through educating them and encouraging their interests including product development, accounting, and marketing.
- To create a network of women, public organisations, and NGOs based in Bangkok to assist the project.
- To search for new markets where products can be sold such as hotels and organisations.
- To fund the members in suitable ways such as free aid and loans without interest.
“We aren’t that good at designing, but we know these women are skilled and want to be better. They know how to sew and it is just a matter of teaching them what the world wants. On one occasion, we went to Bangkok and came across a Japanese-style sewing teacher. We had talked and he wanted to know more about the sewing group in Narathiwas, which was great because they are very good at sewing and it was an opportunity for them to learn about popular sewing in Bangkok. Turned out it was easy for them! They could finish it and make sales in no time. The teacher gave them regular purchase orders. The group is also trying to engage with public organisations.”
“Another group with significant improvement is the clothing group in Pattani. After their orientation in marketing, they knew they needed to brand their products. Prior to this, a Rayo dress was just a Rayo dress, and a Kapiyo hat was just a Kapiyo hat. Those were just the local names. After the marketing course, they named the hats ‘Little Prince Hats’ and that made them adorable. The sales went up from four or five hats per day to hundreds of them. Wanita didn’t get anything in return because they didn’t sell through us. However, we’re delighted about them making more money.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
Ameenoh also told us about other interesting things happening at Wanita, like the delicious Gluay-Hin-Grob — a snack made from fried banana cooked with coconut oil. It is always sold out. Another interesting snack is Guepo, basically corn flakes but made from fried fish sourced from the coast of Pattani and presented in such stunning packaging.
There are many other examples like a notebook made from banana leaves, Batik clothes which boast magical colours painted by the elder housewives group of Yala, coconut shell charcoal, basketry made from Krajood and Toei Panan, both of which are the plants that play a huge role in the basketry of Southern Thailand.
All of these became a source of income for the locals and help to convince young people to stay at home. It is an opportunity for them to spend time with their family in their hometown while also reducing the number of Thais working illegally in Malaysia.
Each year, a small shop that collects handmade products from provinces around the southern border helps to create income for hundreds of people. However, Wanita’s leader emphasises that a major factor which drives the handmade groups forward is the commitment of each and every member.
“The important thing is to make the ladies proud to be here and proud of their beautiful products. Some groups never received any support or knew how to manage their income. Now they know. It may not be a huge sum of money but it makes them happy and that’s what matters.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
Carry on the Legacy
Currently, Wanita is receiving support from the British Council’s Crafting Futures Project which endorses the future of craftsmanship in order to recover and sustain the identities of cultures in Southern Thailand and also to support women in their handiwork. All works are a part of Innovative Development.
The British Council collaborates with the Innovative Hub of Prince of Songkla University (PSU) and designers from Applied Arts Scotland, a collection of skilled artists, designers, and craftsman from around Scotland and other countries. We also collaborate with PATAPiAN; a famous contemporary basketry brand from Thailand that maintains the identity of different cultures while bringing a contemporary twist. Together, we educate people from universities and local communities to work together.
“We support four basketry groups in Pattani and Narathiwas. They all use organic natural materials like bamboo, Toei Panun, and Krajood. The groups are already of high quality, but we want to help them improve and create more diverse, contemporary, and practical products for society. This is all to create a better income and we’ll certainly help them to improve their potential as craftsmen and women in their networks and to achieve this goal. From our field trip, we found that handiwork plays a part in creating peace as well. In order for them to work together, they need to communicate and understand each other better. That’s what we need to keep encouraging.”
“We look at three things. The first is the idea of the product designs. The second is the manufacturing procedure and how to ease the whole process, how to implement tools to work faster, and how to be more eco-friendly. The last thing is branding, selling, and doing business.” — Dr. Pacharawee Tanprawat, Head of Arts and Creative Industries, British Council Thailand
Representatives of the British Council guarantee that you will see new basketry from the community within two years!
The Future of the Women
Other than handiwork, Wanita also has a plan to develop products that can create a collaboration between communities such as Wanita branded bags that are sewn in Pattani and then sent to Narathiwas for embroidery. They can share the income made from these bag among their communities too.
“We’re proud of being part of a project that helps to create a real space for people to sell their products. Many public organisations are amazed that we actually did it, that we can change their mind. We know that some were sceptical at first. They thought we were too young to work with. But we have proved ourselves and shown them we can actually get along. We’re not here to take advantage of them. We never see them as lesser people. We’re here to exchange our knowledge with these skilled communities.”
“The presence of Wanita creates income for many people. Let’s take a family for example. If a mother can make a lot of money, the sisters will have a lot of money also and that will take many problems away. Women in some families usually don’t make much money so they have to ask for it from their husbands. If the husbands don’t have it then it’s a problem. Some families have to support their child’s education but the mother doesn’t have enough money. The children may find themselves in the wrong crowd and doing drugs. It’s a mess. A stable income can help to relieve this.”
“Some women are great at manufacturing but don’t put their items in a store because they need to spend time with their children or their husbands. They have too many responsibilities. If they can make a lot of money but don’t have time for their family then that becomes a problem, and many women would choose a lower income. Also, some are older and commuting is a bit problematic. Many people come here hoping that we would provide them with more work. That’s all they ask for.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
Every baht earned from these beautiful local products is divided into two halves. One half is given to the communities, while the other half is saved for future activities such as orientation and other benefits for the members.
“No organisation will stay with us forever. We hope that this will be a place for the locals. That the women will benefit from this. This is where they can sell their products to us and we can find the right market for them. The profit will be returned to them in many forms.” — Ameenoh Hayimasae, Head of Wanita Enterprise for Communities
In the future, Ameenoh aims for the continued growth of Wanita to help stabilise the network of women across southern border provinces. Wanita may not put out the flame of conflicts for now. However, they at least put the tears of afflicted ladies on hold.
The fire inside them has been ignited. Its heat will not harm anything but will become their strength and help them to arm their communities with magical local products. They are weapons against poverty and tragedy.
To them and their families, this is the great war of their lives.
ภาพ : มณีนุช บุญเรือง
Crafting Futures is a project by the British Council that endorses craftsmanship around the world by creating a network for learning between the United Kingdom and other countries to assist designers and communities to improve their handiworks, boost sales, and make consumers see more value in craftsmanship. If you would like to know more about the developing procedures of craftsmanship, please read here.