Nong Tao is a Karen village located in the upper section of the Mae Wang river basin in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. Nong Tao village has a population 564 people in a total of 114 households. The leaders of Nong Tao, who are well versed in the ways of the Karen people, use traditional knowledge, beliefs, fables and narratives as a means to instill a sense of interdependence between people and environment. Karen women from this area are master weavers with distinct individual family patterns, passed on from mothers to daughters for as long as there have been Karen mothers and daughters.

LadiesOf-ColeenAndLadiesLOfNongTao-websizeNong Tao is also home to a young Karen woman, who lived at Jen’s House for three years. Suneesa graduated high school in March 2012. Last year she spent her time studying sewing and design. Suneesa’s dream, to return to her village and begin a small business that will provide income for women is about to come true.  KLEO Support Group will guide Suneesa through this process. An initial meeting was held on December 16th, 2012. I travelled with Tamla, Jen’s House co-ordinator, to Nong Tao for an initial meeting with Suneesa and the inaugural group of women. Initial discussions included goals, responsibilities, management, and finance.

LadiesOf-LadiesEating-websizeI asked the women why they wanted to join with Suneesa in this venture. Some answers would be obvious but I wanted to hear from them directly to confirm my thoughts and hear about other reasons. Their replies included, they had no work, they have no venue to sell their weaving, and they wanted to save money to send their children to school. One young woman spoke about her inability to pay for her own education. I asked her about future possibilities, thinking that Jen’s House or other KLEO support could be offered. She chuckled and told me that it was too late for her she all ready had three children, 8, 3 and a 2 year old. I swear she looked no older than 20. Her goal is to make 3000 baht a month, about $100.00. With this amount she could put aside 500B a month away for her children’s education and use the rest to support her family. Although Nong Tao villagers have established rice paddies the rice production is usually insufficient for household consumption. Further talk about education followed and the women hope to open an education fund that all will contribute to for their children’s future.

Jen’s House was built with the dream of providing a place for Karen children to live while receiving a quality of education that would carry them further than what is currently available in their mountain villages. There are 25 children living at Jen’s House this year and KLEO is supporting 8 high school graduates who are currently in their first year of post-secondary education. Suneesa is one of the original 24 who moved into Jen’s House in 2009. All students are required to donate one year of their time back to their people in whatever capacity they can.

Suneesa came to Chiangmai  in December, and thanks to the generosity of a single donor we purchased a sewing and finishing machine and weaving supplies. Thank you for making dreams come true.