Ethnic minority communities living in rural areas make up the poorest sector of the Lao population. Recognising the unique obligations of a museum working with these communities, TAEC runs an innovative livelihoods development programme based on traditional handicraft skills. The overwhelming majority of handicraft producers in the programme are ethnic minority women, who studies have shown spend their income on their family’s food, health, and education needs.
Currently TAEC supports over 600 handicrafts producers and their families in 12 provinces of Laos. The programme is a window into the breadth and diversity of traditional crafts practiced throughout Laos: the wood carving of the Ta Oy people of Champassak, heavy handspun cottons dyed a rich indigo by the Tai Phuan of Savannakhet, colourful appliquéd toys made by Akha women in Phongsaly, and sturdy crocheted Liana vine bags by the Kmhmu of Oudomxai Province. TAEC works closely with handicraft producers, providing small loans and payments upfront, training in product design, quality and small business practices, and logistical support. According to fair-trade and sustainability principles, the sale price is divided evenly between TAEC and the producer.
In addition to the obvious benefits of extra income, the programme also fulfils TAEC’s broader mission of promoting interest and investment in ethnic minority cultures. In gaining a monetary value, as well as their value as a symbol of identity and culture, traditional handicraft skills are revitalised and continue to be practiced. The production and sale of new craft products also discourages poor communities from making a one-off sale of their antique family heirlooms, which often results in the memory of how to make them being lost.
If you would like to support the expansion of our handicrafts work, providing more opportunities to rural ethnic minority women, please consider donating through our US-based non-profit, the Luang Prabang Fund for Culture and Conservation: