Decades of conflict in Myanmar have precipitated a complex refugee situation, with Thailand, Malaysia, and India playing pivotal roles in hosting those forcibly displaced. The military takeover in 2021 exacerbated the crisis, leading to recurring displacement and complicating the search for solutions. Over 1.95 million remain internally displaced amidst political tension, human rights abuses, and environmental crises that worsen the situation and hinder humanitarian access.
UNHCR is working together with partners and governments to safeguard the protection of all refugees and seek long-lasting solutions that respond to the multi-faceted nature of the crisis.
Initiatives like MADE51 are instrumental in offering refugees stable income sources that help foster community support and hope for long-term resolutions.
Keep reading to hear from some of the Myanmarese refugee artisans we are working with, in partnership with WEAVE, to create the Charming Songbird holiday ornament as well as other woven products.
Ei Meh, working on weaving the Charming Songbird. Image credit: WEAVE
When did you come to Thailand and with who?
Ei Meh: I arrived at the refugee camp in 1996. I came here on foot, with my parents.
Ter Meh: I arrived at the refugee camp in 1998. I was fleeing by foot with my friend, who has since passed away.
Nga Meh: I arrived at the refugee camp in 1999. I walked together with my uncle.
What is your craft? When did you learn it? How did you learn it?
Ei Meh: I carry the skills of weaving, embroidering, and sewing, and I do quality control for WEAVE. When I was 9 years old my mom taught me how to do weaving and sewing by making my own traditional clothes. I have received capacity building training to improve my basic skill into advanced. Since then, I am able to understand the importance of producing good quality products.
Ter Meh: My mum taught me how to weave when I was 10 years old. At the beginning she taught me how to weave Karenni traditional bags, clothes, and head bands (a traditional Karenni accessory).
Nga Meh: I carry the handicraft skills of weaving, which I learned when I joined WEAVE. I now love to teach and train other woman who are interested in the craft.
What kinds of items do you usually make?
Ei Meh: I weave fabric for the Charming Songbird, as well as the Mie Meh Shawl, Boe Meh Shawl and Scarf. I also sew coin purses, masks and keychains.
Ter Meh: I usually produce the woven fabric for the Charming Songbird, Mie Meh Shawl, Boe Meh Shawl and Scarf.
Nga Meh: I usually produce the weaving fabric for the Charming Songbird, Mie Meh Shawl, Boe Meh Shawl and Scarf. But, I love to do the Boe Meh pattern the most.
See all WEAVE's products here.
Why is this work important to you?
Ei Meh: I was not allowed to leave the refugee camp. So, this work is providing a safe space for me to have a job and earn income.
Ter Meh: The weaving work provides an income for my family. I can pay for school fee for my kids. Even though it is not big amount yet, I believe if I receive more orders, I can have more income. That is my hope.
Nga Meh: I have a happiness when I do this work. It is guaranteed that I can buy more food for family. My kids can eat snacks. I can buy new clothes for myself. As I keep practicing I will continue to improve my skills.
How does working together in a group with other women make you feel?
Ei Meh: We can exchange our knowledge and skills, and we can discuss and share the experiences among us.
Ter Meh: We build relationships through the work that we are doing together. We can exchange and share our stories. Sometimes joke around and tell stories that make us laugh and release.
Nga Meh: We can talk to each other and exchange experiences. Sometimes I feel a release when I share my story, and I able to give encouragement to other women who have met difficult situations.
How does working together with WEAVE helped or supported you?
Ei Meh: I have received capacity building training (weaving, sewing and embroidery), and I also receive raw materials for practicing and production. I received a small grant for starting up a cooperative and my own business. And, my monthly salary is helpful.
Ter Meh: I receive kits from them with essentials like food, clothes, medicine and money, and I have participated a series of training on product development and capacity building. I also received a Christmas gift from WEAVE.
Nga Meh: I feel lucky that I joined WEAVE. WEAVE is not only building our capacity and skills, they are also providing job opportunities to us. After we are trained and our skill is good enough to accept orders, then we can do the work and earn an income. They have been continually providing capacity training.Has being an artisan, and earning a living, empowered you & helped you support your family?
Ei Meh: Yes, I have increased the income for the family generally, and can spend the income on my family members. I can also contribute some to my children's education.
Ter Meh: I have money to buy food for my children and family. I can teach my daughter how to weave, and she can carry on the Karenni traditional handicrafts. I will be proud if she can learn it, and she will.
Nga Meh: It is very important for me to having this job opportunity. I can take care and look after my kids as I work at home. It is a safe space, I feel secure. To look for job outside the refugee camp is not allowed, and very risky for me. That is why I am happy to be an artisan here and to have a job with WEAVE.
Ter Meh, weaving. Image credit: WEAVE
Is there a message you would like to send to the people who purchase the items you are making?
Ei Meh: I would like you to continually place orders. It will help me to buy food for my family. I would also be happy to hear your feedback of the products that you buy. If any need to be improved, we would love to learn how we can do better.
Ter Meh: I would like to have more orders. That means I can have more income!
The more you place an order, the more income I will earn to raise my kids and the whole family.
What benefits can you see among your fellow artisans and their families when you have orders? If you regularly had large orders like this, how do you think it would help you?
Ei Meh: We will receive more work and it will be more income for us. If I have a regular income, it makes me feel secure. I will not worry how will I look for food for my children. We will have good quality of life.
Ter Meh: It will be secure for my family if I have regular orders. I know that the more orders, the more income. So I will not worry anymore on how or where I will look for food, because it is in my hands.
What is your dream?
Nga Meh: I would like to go to a third country with a resettlement program.