THREADS OF YUNNAN a thriving social/economic outreach, and IFAT member began life in 1999 in a resettlement village in Yunnan Province, China where earthquake victims from six different villages had been relocated. Danyun, a Danish organization, launched the outreach project to raise the standard of living among the people of Yunnan Province through rural economic development.
The women of THREADS OF YUNNAN are Han Chinese, and from the Lisu, Miao and Yi people groups. With the support of THREADS OF YUNNAN, the women are able to earn money, using their skills and indigenous cultural handwork to make authentic, traditional embroideries. Danyun helps them to promote and market these items. The project has grown to include 220 women from four different nationality peoples. They are organized in small groups, each group with a leader. These leaders receive special training and instruction which they, in turn, pass on to the group members.
The craftswomen receive immediate payment for their work and it is common to see incomes increase by 70 to 80%. The plan is to develop a sustainable business where all profits are reinvested into the running of the project or into the lives of the people served by the project. Now the entire village benefits from the work of the women through community projects which to date include an irrigation system and purchase of hybrid corn and fertilizer. The women themselves are active in choosing the project each year. Being part of Threads of Yunnan affords these skilled craftswomen an opportunity to break free of poverty which grips the mountain villages.
As part of the project the women also receive training in literacy, hygiene, nutrition, and money management. Night schools have been started and if a woman is in the project she is strongly encouraged to go. The school meets two nights a week and the women are taught to reading, writing, and mathematics. Money management has inspired some of the women to come together to form a "folk bank". This is a savings method where a group of women, usually six, commit to putting a part of their monthly earnings into a common pool. Each month a different woman gets to draw a lump sum from the pool. At the end of six months, if there are six women in the group, each woman would have gotten an opportunity to draw from the pool. These lump sums have helped the craftswomen to invest the cash they have earned to improve their lives and the lives of their children. They are now able to pay school fees, start small businesses, buy household necessities, and pay medical expenses. Women are opening market stalls, raising pigs and other livestock, and even buying furniture and making other home improvements.
Danyun continues to invest time and resources into THREADS OF YUNNAN and is actively working to expand into additional villages. Danyun is also working to develop international markets for the products. The goal for THREADS OF YUNNAN project is to eventually employ 500 women in 30 villages making handicrafts, preserving traditional skills and creating better lives for themselves and their families.
Threads of Yunnan handcraft project is a member of the World Fair Trade Organizaton (WFTO).
Image and Content courtesy of Danyun & Threads of Yunnan