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The last couple of days have been an experience of a life time, some unexpected turns, some hard adventures, and definitely a push out of our comfort zone. Our sub team consisting of Naomi -USA, Laura- Germany, Myself- Australia, and a local Project Assistant/Translator, took a road trip. We travelled to Mai Chau, a rural district in the province of Hòa Bình located in the North West region of Vietnam. The district is a picturesque mountainous region, approximately 135km from Hanoi. It’s perfect for mountain hikes and views of beautiful rice paddies, corn and sugarcane plantations.

          At Mai Chau Town — dry rice plantation (Photo Credit Laura Zimmerman)

But we are here on a different mission, to visit a group of minority women who use their skills of weaving fabric and craftmanship to improve their livelihood. In the interest of not writing a novel, I will spare you the details of our adventurous experience. The cultural shock with the food palate, the sweltering heat ( at different intervals, all three of us thought we were going to pass out, or worse still collapse from heat stroke. This is not a joke!), the sheer exhaustion… it was quite the unexpected experience. Nevertheless it was all worth it, I learnt a lot, I gained a different perspective to the meaning of hardship, opportunity and resilience.

Hard wired intelligence, is not a even close to describing the level of innovation, precision that goes into threading the highly manual traditional fabric making machine. The art of weaving is passed on from generation to generation. In the past it was not viewed as a commercial skill but yet today, this highly coveted skills give the village women a livelihood. Life lesson, seize every learning opportunity today, that skill might be your lifeline in the future.

                 Intricate threading set up for manual cotton fabric weaving

There are no corporate jobs in the town of Mai Chau, majority of households depend on farming to make a living. But here is the catch, everyone else is a farmer, so the demand for produce is not high and if you thought barter trade was a thing of the past, it is still trending here. With tourism on the downward trend and manual jobs poorly paid, the economic options shrink down substantially. Life lesson, Don't take fore grated the opportunities you have, Work like you have no other alternative, because there are many in that situation.

            Skilled Thai people, an ethnic minority group — they hold skills that cannot be                                                    taught in modern schools.

If you thought you are a hard worker, I got news for you, the Thai people in Mai Chau, just took that trophy unquestionably. But that’s not even the point, they are not waiting for the perfect situation, for all the ducks to align, for them to have enough resources and the whole other line of excuses. They are taking what they have and doing what they need to do, to make a living. Not a single grumpy face, no hallway rumor mongering… it was smiles, some jovial conversations and serious executions. Life lesson, be fiercely commitment to your craft, perspective gives you gratitude, make good the hand you were dealt, nobody owes you anything.

When the weaving and handicraft co-operative was set up in Mai Chau, the biggest challenge was teaching the women how business runs. Where is everyone today… ooh its so and so funeral, the whole village is attending. Why is everyone late… oh it was so and so wedding, they all had too much to drink at the reception! Everyone wants to work overtime this week… Oh the women need the extra money to make outfits for the upcoming communal event. Life lesson, Its not all about the money, live in the moment, value community, share life with others the good and the bad, that’s humanity!