As most of us move through our daily lives; talking on our cell phones, driving around town, buying groceries in supermarkets and living in heated and air-conditioned comfort, it is easy for us to forget that there is an entire world of people out there that have little to no idea what many of these experiences are like.
In the landlocked, Southeast Asian country of Laos, there are many people who would fall into this category. For the most part isolated from the rest of the world by the rugged mountain forest terrain that makes up their home, they still live life much as their ancestors have for the last 5000 years.
Subsisting by growing their mountain rice sans mechanical assistance, raising a few farm animals and still practicing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that has enabled their peoples to survive for millenniums, the forest and their traditional skills are both their tie to the past and, thanks to the work of a few caring people, the key to their future.
A Tale of Two Companies
Time, they say, stands still for no man and the same can be said for the people of northern Laos. As surely as the sun rises, modern society is moving into their world, or perhaps it should be said that they are moving into the modern world.
In recent years, these people, for the first time are gaining access to modern medicines, educational facilities and yes, modern commerce. Much of this is due to the growing efforts of the Lao government, but just as much credit belongs to organizations like Nature Bag and Lao Textiles, two organizations that share a common mission of helping the Lao people preserve their heritage and still reap the benefits the modern world has to offer.
'Nature Bag Khmu/Lao Poverty Reduction Project' as it is officially named, is a not for profit organization that concentrates its efforts on helping members of the Khmu tribe and when we say not for profit that is exactly what we mean. There are no highly paid officers. In fact, though in business for over 10 years, its founders have yet to even recover their original seed money, preferring to reinvest the limited profits, from selling handcrafted, Nature Bags back into the communities that they serve through educational and logistical support.
'Lao Textiles' has been operating in Laos for almost 30 years and was the very first American Company to be allowed in the country after the Vietnam War ended. Husband and wife team Carol Cassidy and Dawit Seyoum first came to the country in 1989 as U.N. Development advisers but soon set up their own company.
Carol, a weaver from the age of seventeen, fell in love with the traditional silk weaving of the Lao people and has since dedicated herself to preserving it as a craft. In her own words, ". . . stability, ethnic identity, employment, women empowerment, culture is all interwoven in what we're doing here at Lao Textiles."
Two companies, two different sets of people, two different ways of doing business, but one common heart behind both ventures; a love for the Lao people, their culture, their traditions and an appreciation of the beautiful crafts produced by these very talented people.