01 August 2007

Lao disabled women’s development centre

I visited this centre to buy some small gifts for some visits to Thailand. Here the people make handicrafts and clothes. I found this centre somewhat confronting. Not because the workers had disabilities. Mostly because I never been to the source in the developing countries where my clothes are made and looked like quite tedious work.

In one room the women were sitting on the floor around a low bench finishing off some shirts. Others were making cards, not using any of that expensive scrap booking equipment you get at home, but just using your basic scissors. Some others were weaving scarves. It looked so painstaking. A scarf which is probably 3 days worth of work sells for $10. I saw people doing cross stitch. Sometimes I do it at home and it is really is slow. I somehow thought that the pros would do it quicker, but no, they do it as slow as me.

There was a group learning English. The teacher was Lao and while his English was not perfect, he was really putting in an effort to teach the people there.

I recommend visiting- if you drive away from Vientiane along Tha Dea towards the Friendship Bridge, drive about 100m past the turnoff to the Friendship Bridge. The Centre is located in a house on the right. It is open Monday to Saturdays 9am- 4pm. I have heard that if you want to visit outside these hours, you can, because the women live on campus so just give them a call before you get there. Online here http://www.laodwdc.blogspot.com/

I do wonder- production of what type of goods and services is best for this 'least developed' country? Developing their handicraft industries? Some are ok, but ‘Who buys this stuff- useless!’ comes to mind especially for some of the coconut and candle crafts NGOs have funded that I have seen. Developing their textiles industries like Laos’ neighbours? I can think people would object to Laos turning into a bunch of sweat shops but I can see some benefits. It is probably better than some of the options available. Mining? There is a big mine called Sepon mine run by Australian company Oxiana. Mining is generally perceived as bad, it damages the environment etc, but Oxiana manages to provide good training for staff such as English. They also bring in a huge amount of Laos’ GDP, some crazy 10- 20% (I will have to confirm these figures). This could probably go a long way if spent wisely. What is best?

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