Learning to Weave

Sarah and Michelle – Laos Project Summer Students 2014

One great opportunity that the VWB program provides us is the ability to really learn about, and immerse ourselves in a culture. While on the Laos project, we have made it a point to try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. One such activity was the weaving and dyeing class that Michelle and I took at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside of Vientiane and gives participants the chance to experience and learn the skills required to create the beautiful fabrics of the Lao textile industry.  Houey Hong is dedicated to providing disadvantaged women with the skills necessary to master natural dyeing, traditional weaving, tailoring, and even business administration.  We took a full-day course over the weekend and learned just how much work goes into producing the beautiful sinhs we wear.

 

One of the weavers at Houey Hong working on a very intricate pattern.
One of the weavers at Houey Hong working on a very intricate pattern.
Some of the natural ingredients used to dye the fabric. Left to right: indigo for blue, marigold for green, and resin for red
Some of the natural ingredients used to dye the fabric. Left to right: indigo for blue, marigold for green, and resin for red

The morning was spent learning about all the different natural dyes used. For example, to get green colored silk, Marigold is crushed and heated over an open fire. Picture sitting by an open fire in 40°C, continuously stirring silk thread to make sure they don’t burn, while ensuring you immerse it long enough to get just the right depth of colour.  Next, the silk is dried and wound into spools to use on the large wooden looms to weave the silk or cotton into fabrics of different sizes and patterns.

Michelle preparing her scarf for the dyeing process.
Ready to dye!
Ready to dye!
Sarah using indigo to dye her scarf blue.
Sarah using indigo to dye her scarf blue.
Our finished dyed scarves! Sarah's on the left and Michelle's on the right.
Our finished dyed scarves! Sarah’s on the left and Michelle’s on the right.

 

We then spent a good part of the morning and the entire afternoon learning to use the loom and managed to weave some ‘scarves’. I say ‘scarves’ with some hesitancy because they are about the length of my forearm. An entire days work, and all I have to show for it is a glorified placemat. It really gave me an appreciation as to the time and care that goes into making each and every piece of hand-woven fabric. Weeks and sometimes even months are spent weaving each piece of fabric, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. Although it was hard work (the hottest day we’ve experience so far in Laos, and without an A/C unit in sight), it was an absolutely incredible experience.

Michelle weaving her scarf
Michelle weaving her scarf
Sarah's scarf
Sarah’s scarf

Meet our Summer Students in Laos!

Meet Michelle Lam!

Hey there, my name is Michelle Lam and I am grateful to have been given this wonderful opportunity to be involved with Vets Without Borders! In September I will be starting my third year at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario. Before getting into vet school, I completed a 4 year Bachelor of Science honours degree with a specialization in zoology at the University of Toronto, St. George campus. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I worked for a year at a busy referral and emergency clinic and a private small animal clinic. Soon after, I completed a one year course work Masters in animal behaviour and welfare at the University of Guelph. For my research project I looked at the effects of providing pain medication to piglets during castration.

I am very excited to be able to spend my summer in Laos learning about development work, and working closely with the National University of Laos to help create a sustainable veterinary program, to teach English and to help the school look for future funding.

Meet Sarah Edwards!

Hi! My name is Sarah Edwards and I am so excited to be dedicating my summer to the Vets Without Borders Summer Student Program! I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to combine my interest in global development with my chosen field of Veterinary Medicine. I am in the same class as Michelle, so I will also be entering my third year of study in the DVM program at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Prior to starting my DVM, I completed a BScH in Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University, with a focus on research in Immunology and Microbiology. I also completed a certificate in Business Administration at the University of Windsor and hope to complete my full Bachelors of Commerce after finishing up my DVM. I have always had an interest in development work, especially since working with the Canadian Red Cross at their local branch in Windsor, ON, Canada. My most recent involvement with the social media campaign at the Global Development Symposium 2014 has also driven my excitement for this summer. I look forward to experiencing all of the programs that VWB has to offer here in Laos, such as cricket farming, rabies vaccination campaigns, PAHWS program, and meeting all the vet students at the National University of Laos. Here we go!

Our First Impression:

Laos is a beautiful country rich in culture and history. Our very first impression when we disembarked off the plane was how hot and humid it is here compared to Canada! We spent our first weekend in the capital, Vientiane, where we adjusted to the climate, cuisine, and culture. Our first couple of days were filled with trying traditional Lao dishes, as well as seeking out the nearest air-conditioned café to reassure our loved ones that we made it safely. A quick tuk tuk ride to the morning market led us to quickly realize just how much of a challenge the language barrier would pose. Luckily for us, some basic gestures and the use of a calculator to demonstrate numbers led to the successful purchase of silk sinhs, which are the traditional Lao skirts for women. Our last night in the capital was spent dining with the Vets Without Borders staff, who will be guiding us through our project while in Laos. We are very eager see our new home for the next three months, as we travel to Nabong!

– Sarah and Michelle (Written: May 18, 2014)

Michelle (left) and Sarah (right) on our first tuk tuk ride in Laos!