Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre

Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre

Handicraft workshop

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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.

Travelfish says:

Handcrafted products are made by women with disabilities and are sold to support training programmes.

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.

Dyeing cotton threads for the loom. The centre guides disabled women to a brighter future.

Dyeing threads for the loom.

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.

Making something beautiful from old newspaper. Here the shapes are sewn together to make one-of-a-kind placemats.

Shapes made of rolled up newspaper are sewn together to form placemats resistant to water spills.

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.

The beautiful end products. Paper crafts as well as cushions, bags and other items sewn at the centre are for sale.

The beautiful eco-friendly end products.

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.

Reviewed by

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.

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