Women Form A Tight Weave

Source: Article by P Selvarani from NST Online, 8 October 2008

Less privileged women are groomed to be successful businesswomen, who later become mentors, under an eco-basket programme.

A MAGAZINE one day and a beautifully hand-woven basket the next.

These beautiful baskets and containers are not made from rattan, bamboo or mengkuang leaves. They are made from 100 per cent recycled paper.

Under the deft hands of a group of disadvantaged women organised by the eHomemakers community network, sheaves of colourful paper from old magazines have been transformed into environmentally-friendly trinket boxes, flower baskets, sewing baskets, shopping bags and even hampers closely resembling the traditional woven mengkuang ones.

The eco-basket programme is one of the initiatives carried out under eHomemakers’ Salaam Wanita project that is aimed at empowering less privileged women to embark on socio-economic activities that will make them self-reliant, from the comfort of their homes.

The programme was initiated in 2003 to address the needs of disadvantaged women such as single mothers, widows, the abused, the disabled or the chronically ill, who need financial support, says Salaam Wanita co-ordinator Tan Pooi Lai.

Although they started out training some 120 women in the art of weaving paper baskets, today only a handful are doing it on a regular basis.

This is because many drop out along the way as mastering the art can be time-consuming and the women have to go through a period of learning before they are able to produce baskets that can be marketed.

“Coming from a disadvantaged background, many of these women need money urgently for expenses. They can’t afford to wait too long before earning their first income from this project,” says Tan.

At present, Salaam Wanita has two groups of women — one in the Klang Valley and the other in Ipoh — to weave these baskets.

However, fewer than 20 women are doing it actively. Others who suffer from disabilities or chronic illnesses and who find it too taxing to weave the baskets, help out by rolling the recycled paper for the weavers.

Tan says the paper, sourced from old magazines and pamphlets, is supplied by Salaam Wanita. The women only have to fork out the cost of the glue, wire and shellac.

The completed products are bought by Salaam Wanita and directly marketed to the public via its website www.justmarketing.info.

Apart from its website, Salaam Wanita also markets the products through charity bazaars organised by other NGOs or social groups.

The price ranges from RM7 for the little trinket baskets to more than RM100 for the bigger hampers.

“They make excellent gifts because they are unique and attractive. They are much sought after especially by foreigners. We find that Malaysians are still not very appreciative of this type of handicraft. But we hope to change that.”

The eco-baskets have even been sold in Washington in the US at Pangea Artisan Market and Cafe, a store for community businesses that had been established by International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank group.

There is an increasing demand for these works of art as several local corporate companies have placed orders for baskets and hampers as gifts for their clients, especially during the festive seasons.

Tan says apart from learning the art of weaving, the women are also trained on soft business skills and how to brand themselves.

“Our aim is to groom them into becoming successful businesswomen.”

She says every basket weaver trained by Salaam Wanita is encouraged to mentor another less privileged woman in the art.

“By doing this we hope to give more women the opportunity to earn an income and be self-reliant,” she adds.

It takes perseverance

PART-TIME seamstresss Soo Yoke Cheng felt her world crumble when her husband died four years ago, leaving her to fend for herself and her three school-going children.

Fortunately for Yoke Cheng, her neighbour Kong Foong Yee, a member of eHomemaker’s Salaam Wanita project, was then on the lookout for a mentee to impart her paper basket weaving skills.

“The money I earned as a part-time seamstress was not enough to make ends meet so when Foong Yee asked me to join her, I agreed,” said the 46-year-old from Selayang.

But the going was tough initially.

“It is a skill that requires patience and there were many times I just wanted to give up out of frustration because the baskets I wove were so ugly and out of shape that nobody would want to buy them.

“But Foong Yee continued to encourage me. I was also motivated by the good money Salaam Wanita was willing to pay for the baskets. So I persevered.”

Within four months, Yoke Cheng was able to produce pretty trinket baskets and pencil holders. It wasn’t long before she progressed to more intricate and bigger baskets and hamper baskets.

Her income from the woven baskets now averages RM600 a month increases when there is a higher demand during festive seasons.

She is able to weave a small basket within an hour while a bigger one would take her about two hours. She is able to make about 20 baskets per week.

“It’s an easy and convenient way to earn a living as I can work from home. And I do my weaving during my spare time after attending to my children and the household chores.”

In fact, the paper basket weaving has almost become a family concern as Yoke Cheng’s three teenage sons help her with the job by either rolling the sheets of paper or sorting them out by colour.