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Vietnam Quilts - Mekong Quilts

Community Development Non-Profit Organisation

January 2011 Newsletter

Welcome to the January edition of the Vietnam/Mekong Quilts newsletter. First of all, we hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and new year with families and friends. We hope that 2011 is a wonderful year for all of you..

In this edition, we have lots of interesting news to share with you, including:

  • Teaching women how to fish - and how to dream
  • New products in stores
  • Training in Cambodia
  • Vietnam Quilts production centre has moved
  • Mekong Creations comes to Hanoi
  • Who we are

Teaching women how to fish - and how to dream

When I first saw and stepped into the Vietnam Quilts store in Hanoi, I was both puzzled and impressed. Quilts? I asked myself. Isn’t that an American tradition? The store was clean, well lit and the quilts and other products were organized in a display appealing to my visual senses. I immediately recognized the very high quality of craftsmanship. I also wanted to know more about the organization that employed and trained rural women to do this work and provided them with an opportunity for a better life.  You see I am a photographer and writer and I am currently traveling in developing countries all around the world looking to document positive stories of empowerment. I was sure I had found one here that I wanted to be involved with.

After all the paperwork and logistics were arranged I travelled to the small community of Duc Linh, 4 hours northeast of HCMC to see how working for Vietnam Quilts had improved the lives for these women and their families.

What I found at one of the largest and most productive work groups were women who joyously worked together.  There was a lot of laughing, giggling and whispers going on as I went through my own antics to coax smiles from the shy women for their official portrait. I could see first hand how the training and work has changed the lives of these women. They were visibly happy and confident. They took pride in their work as well as in themselves. This was Ca's house, one of the most experienced group leaders. When asked, she told me repeatedly she felt her main responsibility to these women was to create and maintain an atmosphere of harmony and solidarity. Not exactly the answer I expected or wanted based on my preconceived (Western) notions, but one I have thought much about since then.

According to Sue Wise, a Board member, all women are guaranteed 20 days work per month and are paid a decent wage for their work. They can afford to send their children to school and recognize how important it is for them to receive a quality education. The women are able to work from home and take care of their children, something that was not possible before, when they had to travel long distances for a day’s work.

They also receive many other benefits, such as health insurance, extra money when a woman gets married, a new baby is born or a family member dies. The steady work is really the key for these families. However, due to continually increased sales, the women are able to work as many hours as they desire. For a community where there is high unemployment and most men are day laborers, this provides the women with tremendous economic power and respect from their husbands and the community at large.

One afternoon I was taken to a woman’s house who had been in the program for 3 or 4 years. She took me on a tour starting with the one small room in which her entire family lived when she began working for Vietnam Quilts. She then explained how they added another room and then another as they saved enough money from her work with VQ. These other two rooms were just as tiny as the first. Then they built a room including a kitchen area that was as big as the other three rooms put together. That’s when I realized that VQ had indeed accomplished something very important, more important than just a great demand for their products.

It is not enough to provide a job or training to the poor. I feel it is more important to help someone expand their vision of what they believe is possible for themselves. In attempting to help lift people out of poverty we must provide the kind of help that is empowering - that allows those less fortunate to see and recognize how they may help themselves. We must put our own preconceived notions aside as to what that better life looks like, because it is our vision not theirs. Instead, we must encourage them to dream up their own vision and then accept and support whatever it is. We must fill them with pride and confidence while they pursue their own dreams of a better life.

As the old adage goes, give someone a fish and they will eat for a day, teach them how to fish and they will never go hungry. Vietnam Quilts has done this and more. They are teaching these women how to dream and personally I think that is their greatest achievement. 

(Written by Christine Kreig Photography)

New products in-stores

The Vietnamese schoolgirl quilt is an extremely impressive new design by Liz Reece, a volunteer designer at Vietnam Quilts. The idea of the row of girls came from a memory of Liz’s first visit to Vietnam 8 years ago. "From a distance, I saw the beautiful girls in white ao dai's walking from school along a small narrow footpath, all in a row. They all had school books in their hands and stepped onto a boat one by one.” This quilt will soon be available in the shops.

 

Training in Cambodia

Our quilting group in Rumdoul, Svay Rieng province, Cambodia have been in training, to upgrade their quilting skills.  Two ladies, Sherry Groen and Roni Conard from International Ladies of Vietnam, travelled to Rumdoul and spent three days with one of the groups, teaching two patchwork design quilts.  Mrs Groen has already purchased the first quilt for her grandson.

For the second quilt group, Debbie Wendt, a quilter from the United States visiting her husband in Vietnam, offered to work with them on their first baby quilt design.  The design chosen was an easier, stitch-around design, to get the ladies familiar with the new skills needed.  Although the ladies are all accomplished quilters, they found the larger sized product a challenge but Debbie coaxed them through to the end in making some fantastic quilts.

Since then, Evelyn Domingo Barker, a volunteer living in Thailand, also spent time with both groups, consolidating their skills.  Evelyn spent almost a month in Rumdoul working with the women and enjoying the relaxed pace of life in the village.

Thank you to all of our trainers for donating their valuable time and efforts to Mekong Quilts.

Production room has moved

The new production control house, at 441 /39 D Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ward 1, Go Vap District in Ho Chi Minh City is making life much easier for the production control team.  The house is much larger and all sections are on the ground level.  There are four main areas, one for accounting, quality control, production management, and design and marketing, as well as two stock storage rooms and plenty of room for fabric.  Surrounding a sunny courtyard, the team are now settled in the new location.

Mekong Creations comes to Hanoi

Mekong Creations, another non-profit project under our NGO, Mekong Plus opened a shop in HCMC in August 2010. Three months later, Mekong Creations has finally come to Hanoi with products available on the 2nd floor of Vietnam Quilts Hanoi shop. Mekong Creations has its own space to represent their various and beautiful products made from bamboo, rattan, water hyacinth and Batik cloth from Cambodia. As with the products of Vietnam Quilts, you can place custom orders for special size or colors and Mekong Creations also offers the shipping service worldwide. All profits from the sale of Mekong Creations and Vietnam Quilts products are reinvested into the community via Mekong Plus.

 

 

 

Who we are

Vietnam Quilts and Mekong Quilts are non-profit, community development projects within the NGO of Mekong Plus.  The program trains and employs women in rural areas of Vietnam and Cambodia, where employment is seasonal and can require the women to leave their families for extended periods of time. We aim to give these women permanent work, with a regular income, in their own village.  Currently we employ around 300 women to hand-make, design and sell quilts and home accessories in Vietnam, Cambodia and internationally, but are always looking for opportunities to employ more.

For further information about Vietnam Quilts and Mekong Quilts, and to view our catalogue of products, please visit our website.

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