Mar 7, 2022 | Features, Photo Essay, Recent Stories


An “oasis of hope” bringing opportunity to empowerment to refugee women at the Thai-Burma border

Text By: Susu Hauser

Edited By: Mitos Urgel, Executive Director of WEAVE Foundation

Photographs By: Ta Publications courtesey of WEAVE-WOMEN

There are now over 90,000 refugees at the Thai-Burma border and that number has steadily grown due to the coup staged by the Burmese military in February of 2021. Over three decades of fighting between Burmese Armed Forces and armed ethnic rebel forces has led to more than half the population of 50 million living below the poverty line. Only nine main refugee camps on the Thai border offer slivers of hope and sanctuary from some of the worst atrocities humanity has ever seen.

For as long as there has been refugee confinement at the Thai-Burma border, there has been WEAVE, Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment. Founded in Thailand in 1990, the original intent of the organization was to provide practical and immediate needs to indigenous refugee women and children. These needs included women’s public health, women’s safe income generation, early childhood care and development, and education addressing violence towards women. Through action-based educational programs and their Fair Trade social enterprise, WEAVE bolsters its cornerstone developmental goals; women’s economic empowerment and education for empowerment.


“In this world there is no force equal to the strength of a woman determined to rise.”

~ W.E.B. Du Bois

As a long-standing guaranteed member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), WEAVE’s business model is both pro-people and pro-environment. Fair Trade principles ensure fair payment, safe work conditions, transparency with supply chains, protection of human rights and gender equity, environmental sustainability, and investment in community development. WEAVE’s Economic Empowerment program and social Fair Trade enterprise harnesses and preserve the traditional weaving, sewing and embroidering skills that are ingrained in the indigenous cultures of the Karen, Karenni and hill-tribe women. All products are ethically and sustainably sourced, and WEAVE artisans are educated in organic farming, tree planting and the harvesting of natural dyes for their handmade textiles.

“Community-led solutions are critical and fundamental to recovery and in rebuilding resilient communities. “

~ Mitos Urgel, Executive Director of WEAVE Foundation

The fact remains, women’s rights are human rights, and women’s economic empowerment is at the core of achieving gender equality. It is also undeniable that when income is put into the hands of women, they invest in future generations. The UN reports that women invest 90% of their income back into their families as compared to 35% for men. Empowering women with financial independence is not only key to expanding and diversifying markets but also to improving health and education outcomes for all.

WEAVE takes a multi-prong approach in empowering refugees through education. Firstly, WEAVE implements the Women Study Program in collaboration with the Karenni National Women’s Organization. This is a 10-month course addressing women issues and development, peace education and conflict transformation. Through this program, young girls and women gain agency over their livelihood and home life, and confidence in what is needed to achieve gender equality within their community. Upon completion, the WSP graduates become agents of change forwarding on their education to over 1500 refugee women in the camp.  WEAVE additionally partners with the Karenni Further Studies Program (KFSP) which is a youth led program that educates over 50 refugee students for 2 years in safe learning spaces. Compounded with this program is the Early Childhood Program that utilizes mother tongue based multi-lingual education to improve comprehension. This program serves more than 3000 preschool and kindergarten refugee children in over 15 nursery schools. The objective is to ensure that displaced Burmese children from the ages of 3 to 6 have access to quality early childhood programs to aid in their physical, emotional, intellectual, and creative development.

It is clear, WEAVE is more than its Fair Trade enterprise. It is an expansive engine for positive social change. It is a vision of a more equitable world in which women can gain financial independence, equal wages, agency over their bodies, and a valued and respected voice in their households and communities. A world in which education and dignity are granted to all regardless of what walk of life and traumas endured. As conscious consumers we can invest in a sisterhood across seas.


WEAVE Fair Trade Co.Ltd
+66 84 761 6918

Email: handicrafts@weave-women.org


Susu Hauser is a professional photographer and cinematographer with a specialty in marketing for nonprofits. Susu will be filming with WEAVE in the fall of 2022 for her upcoming documentary “Hands of Change” in which she will shine light on the empowerment of women through Fair Trade enterprises.

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