The Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC) is a non-profit organisation that empowers women with disabilities by offering vocational training, employment, support and community. Visitors can take a tour and a handicraft class at the centre in Vientiane. Be prepared for a joyous and eye-opening experience.
According to the World Health Organisation, 10% of people in Laos have a disability. The causes range from birth defects to malnutrition, traffic accidents and infection/disease (for example, polio is a prevalent cause of disability for women at the centre). But the physical disability is only a small part of the challenge they live with. Stigma, negative stereotype and lack of access to healthcare and education are the biggest obstacles, with women facing greater discrimination. Disabled women are one of the most marginalised groups in Laos, and they face a higher risk of mental and physical abuse.
The LDWDC, opened in 2002, empowers women through training and subsequent employment in sewing, embroidery, weaving, natural dyes, sign language, computers skills and paper handicraft, making products out of recycled newspapers that the centre sells to support itself. The products are incredible and visitors can do a class to learn how plain old newspaper can be turned into picture frames, coasters, placemats, earrings, key chains and ornaments.
After a tour of the centre and meeting several of the trainers and students, we sit down with the paper product team who are nimbly, skilfully making coasters. Ms Boyyu patiently shows me the process: strips of newspaper are rolled into long sticks, and those sticks are painted with glue, carefully rolled tight and hammered gently into shapes — circles, squares, diamonds — that are then cleverly sewn together to form various items. Everything is handmade from recycled materials, even the shopping bags and gift boxes.
Ms Boyyu was born into a family of famers in Sekong province in southern Laos, one of the poorest provinces in the country. Her mother died when she was young. At the age of nine she became disabled in both legs, stemming from an infection from when she was four years old. The LDWDC first learned about her when, at the age of 20, she became very ill and her father could not afford to take her to the hospital. In 2007 she arrived and started living and training at the centre. Her transformation was remarkable. She is now independent, confident and skilled, and holds a position as an Assistant Paper Handicraft Trainer.
But not even Ms Boyyu can salvage the coaster we made. It’s something only our mother would love and it causes giggles to ripple through the team. Luckily the LDWDC’s shop is stocked up with well-made versions. Most of the items are under US$10 and knowing how much time and effort went into it and where the revenue goes, the entire experience is priceless.
The handicraft class plus tour is 60 minutes, costs 100,000 kip per person. You can add a delicious Lao lunch for 80,000 kip or a traditional Baci, an important Lao custom and blessing ceremony, for 100,000 kip per person. A guided tour of the centre only is 50,000 kip. Advanced booking is recommended. Drop by the showroom to shop and watch a video presentation for free.
Getting to LDWDC is very easy. From the central bus station, take the green and white air-conditioned bus, route #14 headed to the Friendship Bridge and Buddha Park, costs 6,000 kip. The centre is 400m after the bridge (the bus will rest at the border for a few minutes before continuing on).
Address: Thadeu Rd, 400m from the entrance to Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, Vientiane
T: (021) 812 282;
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º42'45.39" E, 17º53'3.63" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Class plus tour 100,000 kip
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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