Since 2006, Intrepid Thailand has given Intrepid travellers a special shoulder bag, emblazoned with the call to action “Say No to Plastic” in Thai and English. Any guesses as to how many bags have been given out?
The bags are produced by a women’s cooperative, Tae Moh Hai, meaning Our Friends Hands in local Kuy dialect. The group live in a small village, Baan Sawaii, located in Sri Saket province, in north-eastern Thailand. The initiative was established by former Intrepid group leader, Dtor, in her home village, with the aim to create work for local families and to motivate local people to understand the importance of conserving the environment.
Over the years, two different styles of bags have been produced for Intrepid: monk style shoulder bags for travellers and white calico bags for travel fairs in New Zealand and the UK. Since the first order made at the start of 2006, Intrepid has ordered over 40,000 bags! Around 20% of the price of each bag goes directly to the women’s group, whose members have now earned over half a million Thai baht. The project makes a particular difference to a committed group of 10 women who have worked on every order since 2006. When bigger orders come in, work is shared around other local villages, and sometimes 40 or 50 people are working to get bags on Intrepid shoulders!
The biggest expense (over 50%) is materials, such as cloth, thread and buttons, that are sourced by Dtor in north-east and northern Thailand. Therefore, as well as helping the women’s group, the bags have injected highly appreciated funds into the local economy, especially during the past few years when political demonstrations have hurt small businesses.
Peter, Dtor’s husband and also a former Intrepid group leader explains: “There is no industry in this part of the country, so after the rice harvest there is very little work available locally. Many local women have previously worked in the factories in Bangkok, but after starting a family they have returned home to bring their children up in the countryside. The word spread quickly when we were producing a big order. Many local women are very skilled and brought a sewing machine back with them from the city. Within a week, 10 community groups and a selection of individuals had come to share the workload and be part of the project that would benefit over 100 families.”
It is a great atmosphere as the seamstresses munch on local snacks like tamarind seeds, joking and gossiping, while cutting the cloth, sewing up the bags and screen printing the logos. “It’s worlds away from the airless factories of Bangkok” says Peter, “working next to the rice fields with a cool wind, the radio playing Thai country tunes and regular breaks to eat the regional favourite, green papaya salad mixed with salted crab and fermented fish!”
Dtor and Peter put more than 30% of the remaining income from producing the bags towards social and environmental projects in Sawaii village. Since 2006, more than AU$6,000 has been donated to a variety of projects, including buying sewing machines for the Tae Moh Hai group; buying land for the group to plant trees for natural dying; building a kuti shelter for a revered local Monk; taking local youth to the Elephant Village and tree planting on many occasions. Dtor has lead the planting of over 30,000 trees since 2009, at a new Buddhist forest meditation centre in Chaiyaphum.
Dtor has also supported the women by coordinating with local authorities and artists, organising training for the women in cutting, stitching and natural dying. Regular work for Intrepid helped group members to hone their skills, and they now also get work from other organisations, such as local clothing shops, schools and government offices.
Dtor and Peter have retained around 15% of the income from the bags, which they used to found their fair trade store, Family Tree, in the beautiful family beach resort of Hua Hin. Here they share crafts, culture and community with visitors who are interested to learn about and support authentic Thai arts and artists. Amongst the locally made goods sold are beautiful 100% natural dyed silks – spun, dyed and woven by the Tae Moh Hai cooperative. A wonderful partnership that has widely benefited local communities!
The Intrepid Foundation – travellers making a difference
Help support great grassroots organisations via the Intrepid Foundation, plus find out how your donation can be matched* by Intrepid Travel!
* Donations will be matched by Intrepid Travel up to AU$5000 (or equivalent) per donor and a total of AU$400,000 each financial year.