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Project Aims to Improve Economy of Thai Village

Project Aims to Improve Economy of Thai Village

Years after Indian Ocean tsunami, students hope to help by marketing community's handicrafts, reports The Daily Bruin student newspaper.

By Areim Omar for The Daily Bruin

AFTER THE INDIAN Ocean tsunami of 2004 devastated the economy of many Thai villages, two groups of Muslim women in the village of Kamphuan were forced to restart their lives.

In an already declining economy, the women decided to make and sell culturally specific and eco-friendly handicrafts to supplement their livelihoods. One group focused on tie-dyes and the other group on batiks, or graphic designs on clothing.

A travel study program last summer gave the opportunity for three UCLA students, one UCLA alumna and one UC Davis student to travel to Kamphuan. It was there that they decided to continue their studies of micro-finance techniques by bringing the Thai women’s handicrafts to the U.S. and starting a project at UCLA.

The goal of the Women’s Initiative for Local Livelihoods project, or W.I.L.L., is to educate the community about the ongoing economic detriment caused by the tsunami.

“We just wanted to make it known ... how these women were able to pull themselves up through the many types of livelihoods. Our main goal is to spread awareness and market their products,” said Terri Chan, a fourth-year environmental studies student.

The W.I.L.L. members at UCLA are focused on selling the products mainly to faculty members, but they are hoping to expand their customer base. The profits of the sales go to micro-financing activities within the campus group Net Impact, which promotes social entrepreneurship, said Chan, who is also a member of Net Impact.

“The women of Kamphuan have had a lasting and profound impact on me. Their strength and perseverance has inspired me to have the same attitude and outlook on life, one that is strong, hopeful and full of love,” said Elizabeth Lam, an environmental policy and analysis planning student at UC Davis.

The creators of W.I.L.L. were part of the Thailand Sustainable Communities and Ecosystems Summer Program and were assigned a final project on their trip aimed at contributing to the communities studied and implementing natural and social science research, said Professor Michael Silverman, creator of the travel study program dedicated to regions in Thailand affected by the tsunami, in an e-mail.

“(W.I.L.L.) mainly started because our group realized we still wanted to keep in contact with the women with whom we built strong bonds with after only five to six days, and to continue to help their cause of supporting themselves and other local women in their community after many of the women lost their jobs and families,” Lam said.

The batiks and tie-dye work that the women of Kamphuan produce were sold to relief workers who were in Kamphuan after the tsunami, but once the workers left, the women lacked a customer base. The W.I.L.L. founders decided to expand the groups’ handicrafts to the U.S., Chan said.

The batiks are particularly significant in Thai culture.

They are handmade, with hours of effort put into each one, which gives them much more value than a factory-produced product, Silverman said.

“Traditionally, a batik’s design included a personal, social or cultural meaning, which could be understood as representing social position, ordinary life or something more spiritual,” Silverman said.

The students focused the women’s use of money, with revolving and pooled funds to create a successful livelihood, Chan said.

“They advocate for social, gender and economic equity. They implement economic activities that are socially responsible, culturally sensitive and enhance ecosystem resilience. They engage in local policymaking practices that include deliberation,” said Silverman, who is currently doing field research in Thailand centered on gender within the realm of sustainability.

The income-stimulating groups are also therapeutic for the women who lived through the tsunami disaster and lost family members and husbands who were the primary breadwinners of the community.

“The tsunami brought them closer together, and they all experienced the same or similar emotional shock. It’s a support group for the women,” Chan said.

For more information about purchasing the handicrafts or about the project in general, contact locallivelihoods@gmail.com.

UCLA International Institute