The lit­tle shop of friend­ship

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

THE Friend­ship Bridge span­ning the Moei River be­tween Burma and the north­ern Thai town of Mae Sot is a sym­bol of hope for the fu­ture. While re­form now is slowly gain­ing trac­tion in Burma, for decades na­tion­als have fled op­pres­sion and sought safety in refugee camps and mi­grant set­tle­ments in this lush bor­der re­gion.

Friend­ship also has been a con­stant theme at Bor­der­line, a women’s col­lec­tive, gallery, shop and tea house that sits on Mae Sot’s main thor­ough­fare. Since 2004, it has sold hand­i­crafts pro­duced by refugee and mi­grant women, help­ing to sup­ple­ment their in­come and al­low them to ad­e­quately care for their chil­dren. As a sec­ondary ac­com­plish­ment, it has ed­u­cated cus­tomers about Burmese his­tory, pol­i­tics, cul­ture and food.

Bor­der­line was co-founded by Tai­wanese na­tional Sylvia Lin, who moved to Mae Sot in 1997 to work with Burmese refugees in the fields of ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial ser­vice. As part of her job Lin col­lab­o­rated with the Karen Women’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion, which rep­re­sents women from the Karen eth­nic mi­nor­ity group.

‘‘We had these in­come-gen­er­a­tion projects with the KWO, so I would pur­chase their prod­ucts and then sell them to vis­i­tors or friends from other NGOs,’’ Lin ex­plains. ‘‘Other women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions in Mae Sot also had in­come-gen­er­a­tion projects, but they didn’t have a mar­ket­ing place to sell their prod­ucts of­fi­cially. So we came up with this idea to have a col­lec­tive.’’

At the out­set, Bor­der­line rep­re­sented just three as­so­ci­a­tions, but it has quickly grown to in­clude 16 groups that cater to the needs of women, chil­dren and youth, as well as about 24 community-based or­gan­i­sa­tions that fos­ter growth in the spheres of health­care, so­cial wel­fare and con­ser­va­tion.

‘‘They try to use tra­di­tional fab­ric and then make the prod­ucts that out­side or mod­ern com­mu­ni­ties would use, like clothes, bags or ac­ces­sories,’’ Lin says.

And so Bor­der­line is filled with beau­ti­ful tex­tiles — mostly or­ganic cot­ton coloured with nat­u­ral dyes — fash­ioned into hand­bags, cloth­ing, shoes, jew­ellery and even lap­top bags. The shop hosts reg­u­lar art exhibitions, runs cook­ery, weav­ing and art classes, and trains Burmese in­terns in re­tail man­age­ment.

Apart from sell­ing to over­seas buy­ers the co­op­er­a­tive caters mainly to ‘‘hu­man­i­tar­ian or re­spon­si­ble tourists’’.

Says Lin, ‘‘When they come to the bor­der, peo­ple like to buy sou­venirs or clothes, and so the sell­ing has be­come big­ger and more peo­ple know this place.’’

bor­der­linecol­lec­tive.org

Sylvia Lin, left, with store man­ager Mayee

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