On December 29th I invited Trish, a friend who volunteers for KLEO in Chiangmai, to join me on the trip to deliver the new sewing machine to Suneesa and friends in Nong Tao. The yellow songtao at Chiang Mai gate took us to Thung Siao to meet Chai. He was ready and waiting with Tamla and their children, who were going home for the four day New Year holidays when we arrived. It was nice to have an English speaking friend to share the event with, a rare but welcome occasion for me. Trish and I chatted along the way, the cool mountain air blowing through the open bed of the pick-up, rejuvenating us.

LadiesOf-ColeeninNongTao-websizeDriving up to Suneesa’s home it was obvious the greeting party had been assembled for some time. After welcomes were offered, Chai started to unload the machine. The ladies swiftly moved in on him and took over, they were in charge. Unloading the new sewing machine they moved it quickly inside to a place of honour in the front room.

It was as if a new baby had just arrived home and had to be rushed inside to keep it safe from the elements. Even the ladies that had gathered waited patiently outside, weaving and chatting, respectful that the new baby had to be settled in before they would be invited inside to take a peek.

During the visitation it was time for the Ladies to get down to business. Some had all ready completed weaving so we dove into the book keeping, inventory set-up, and payments. The Ladies have decided that they will save 40 baht on every item of weaving they produce towards an education fund. Records will be kept and a bank account opened for this purpose. During the months I am here I will help them take care of it and when I’m in Canada Trish has kindly agreed to help them manage the funds until they can do it on their own. The Karen ladies are not in the habit of keeping records or writing things down. They have never saved money and no one wants to take on the responsibility of managing other peoples’ money. If it is not done the ladies will not save. Tamla informed me that she has never saved money and wants to be a part of this to ensure she will have funds for her children’s education. The amount that is contributed will come back to them as their children come of age to go to school. Discussions on how records will be kept filled the rest of the day with Sunessa taking the lead in recording in Thai and myself in English. There is much for the Karen women to learn. After many hours and with dizzy brains we finished up for the day.



That evening we shared dinner with the Suneesa’s family and as soon as we were done she quietly slipped away. We were invited to join the families New Year’s celebration but after an early morning and a full day we declined preferring to head back to Tamla’s to bed. Tomorrow would be another early start.  Suneesa decided to skip the celebration that night too. I went back inside to say good-night and in the dark of the night, barely able to see, she sat at her sewing machine doing what she loves to do, sew. Back in Chiang Mai reflecting on that day I realize there was something more important to Suneesa than a New Year’s celebration. It was a celebration of the beginning of her new life.

Since we built Jen’s House in 2009 I’ve often wondered how it would all work out. If the children were educated would they return to their villages and give back to their communities as I hoped. Would they move on, preferring to start new lives in the city, as many people thought? Suneesa is now an educated confident young Karen woman that has achieved her dream. Will it last forever; will Suneesa be successful in her business ventures? No one knows, but what we do know is that some of the Karen children we support at Jen’s House will indeed return to their villages and give back to their families and communities.

Thank you Suneesa for making my dream come true.

— Coleen