Saturday, January 13, 2007
Artisan Story: Kommaly Chanthavong - Phon Tong Handicraft, Laos
If you want to know where my passion is, it's Ten Thousand Villages. There is so much behind what you see when you go into the store. There are so many stories behind each product. There are SO many people who live better lives because of the store - it especially helps women who could not otherwise provide for themselves. Much of the time these women in developing countries do not have employable skills and they are not given a chance in the working world. Ten Thousand Villages partners with MCC and other organizations, which help women and other disadvantaged people groups develop skills so that they can make a living for themselves.
One amazing example of a woman with a vision is Kommaly Chanthavong. I had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her story in Calgary in October. She lives in Northern Laos where she fled to as a refugee. Many of the women there were in the same situation as her and were in great need of work. Most of the women including Kommaly had learned silkwork from their mothers as girls don't go to school. Kommaly decided to use these skills and began her business with ten other women who decided to create silk scarves with her to sell. Now the group has expanded to more than 450 people in 35 villages. Here is a picture of Kommaly teaching us the Silk making process.
One of the exciting aspects of her business is that it is completely self sustainable. She works with the farmers who raise cattle and uses the manure to fertilize the mulberry trees which feed the silk worms. The mulberry trees are also used to make tea, which Kommaly has also found a market for. I tried it and it was quite good. Keep your eye's peeled for Organic Mulberry tea. All material from the silk making process that would normally be considered waste is used, including the larvae which are in the cocoons which the silk comes off of. The larvae are a good source of protein. The water that the larvae are boiled in is also very good for the skin - as witnessed by Kommaly's beautiful skin:) You can see the larvae in the picture below.
The cocoons are boiled and the cocoons becomes very sticky. All of the larvae stick together and one very thin and very long thread (see me holding it in the picture at the top of this post) is spun out of the the larvae that are in the pot. Below you can see one of the guys at the workshop spinning the thread.
As mentioned above, nothing is wasted in the silk making process. The berries from the mulberry tree are also used to dye the threads. All of the dyes are from natural elements.
Kommaly and the women who work with her have been very successful with their business and sell their Scarves to Ten Thousand Villages as well as buyers in other countries. Many of their scarves have won awards in various competitions.
I hope that you've enjoyed this bit of information. I think that it makes an item so much more valuable when you know the person that is behind it and how much it has helped them. So, keep this in mind when you see a silk scarf from Laos!