Just as the COVID tsunami began to sweep through Myanmar, I was visiting a Rotary supported project in the town Meiktila, an Asian Daylesford that also has a beautiful lake with a floating Buddhist temple.
On the rural fringe of this town a group of women from Wi Tha Khar, a local charity, have purchased land and established a workshop to train and support village girls – the ‘forgotten girls of Myanmar’.
Young girls who are seeking jobs in cities are the most vulnerable group to be trafficked as sex slaves within Myanmar and neighboring countries such as Thailand. $US5,000 is the going price for a young Myanmar bride to fill the shortage of women in China. These girls are required to care for husbands and/or elders including bearing children, doing domestic chores and working in cottage farms in the border towns and villages of China.
This social enterprise supporting Myanmar’s ‘forgotten girls’ was registered as a Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) project in April last year and has progressed rapidly to the stage that a workshop and training centre have been constructed in Meiktila and a shop has been opened in Yangon to sell the traditional crafts produced by the girls to tourists.
Rotary has donated $8,000 to purchase additional land and equipment. Most of the donations have come from Daylesford and Hepburn residents. I would like to thank them all. My glass half empty (miseria) gene did think that given the trauma of the pandemic in Australia generosity would be a victim, but our local community has proven that despite our personal difficulties compassion and concern still thrives here.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled progress on the project as significant restrictions were imposed in Myanmar. As such, there have been limited sales of goods.
Our most recent transfer of $2,000 will provide support for the girls, help with rent and purchase of materials so that the work can continue. We are exploring the possibility of importing about 300 of their organically dyed scarves to be sold in Australia. A craft shop in Daylesford may purchase 50.
Dr Kathy Shein, the Myanmar Chairperson of the charity sent me an upbeat message on May 11:
We all are fine on our end as a shop and a workshop have been closed since last week of March 2020. All are still paid but it is not easy to provide full salary to weavers and a sale woman at showroom for a long term. I tried not to think further, mainly a post Covid-19 period as the whole world is suffering due to that virus.
However, their situation appears to be deteriorating as this recent (June 24) update indicates:
Life is not well here as a shop has no business for months. As a result, about 300 hand-made organic dye scarves and fabrics are at shop and a production line has closed since lockdown. Apart from one worker who stays at the workshop, a half-payment for other weavers were settled for two months only and couldn’t pay more as my resources is going to die (though I keep paying a sale girl since then).
My motivation is getting down and I am thinking of how can i keep the sale flow to rid of the old and make new stuff. If you have any idea for promoting sales, pleas do let me know.
So sorry to bother you with those unpleasant things. Wish you all the best and take care of yourself.
I do wish for the best and hope that you and all of the donors to WTK are ok.
How you can help
It is so disappointing that what is an amazing grassroots project to support the training of village girls in safe and secure employment has now been stalled. With some support the project can resume once this dreadful virus is contained.
Many people are suffering around the world and here in Australia, so I won’t do my usual rant for donations. But if you have a few dollars to spare please go to the Rotary website below (donations are tax deductible).
On behalf of Kathy and the Forgotten Girls of Myanmar, thank you Daylesford and Hepburn for your generosity.