Meet the Makers: Khairul Nesa and Daw La Bwi Lu Jan

Introducing two weavers from Afghanistan and Myanmar who inspire us with their talent and determination

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Khairul Nesa, a weaver from Afghanistan

At this time of great uncertainty, we are doing our best to bring you the voices and stories of the artisans we support across the globe, in the hope that they will inspire you with their resilience and optimism, often in the face of great adversity. Here, we introduce two women who share a lot in common, although they come from very different backgrounds: Khairul Nesa, from Afghanistan, and Daw La Bwi Lu Jan, from Myanmar.

Khairul grew up as a refugee in Pakistan and was taught to weave by her mother. By the time she was 17 years old, she was a talented carpet weaver, could dye and spin wool, and was teaching others her weaving skills. When Khairul’s family returned to Balkh, Afghanistan, she sold her jewellery to purchase raw materials and began to weave her own carpets, but she couldn’t find buyers in the local market. She then joined a weaver group run by our partners in Afghanistan, Label STEP. Through Label STEP, she participated in workshops to improve her skills, and was given access to health services and joined in on meetings to discuss women’s rights and international labour standards.

Weaver supported by Turquoise Mountain Credit Turquoise Mountain 2017

A weaver supported by Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan

“The Label STEP team interviewed me, and I was selected as a Weaver Representative... It was a new world for me... As a group leader I provided awareness raising to 40 other women and I felt like I became stronger day by day,” she says.

Following her selection as a Weaver Representative, Khairul is now in a better position to negotiate with carpet producers and can ensure fair pay and working conditions for herself and the 40 weavers she supervises. Even now, Turquoise Mountain continues to place carpet orders with groups like those headed by Khairul Nesa, and we ensure that all the weavers we work with earn at least 10% above market rate and are able to work from home.

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Daw La Bwi Lu Jan, a weaver from Myanmar

Daw La Bwi Lu Jan is a 70-year-old Kachin weaver who lives in Myitkyina, a state in the far north of Myanmar. She learned to weave from her mother and has been weaving since she was very young. When she got married and had children, Daw La Bwi began to weave at home to earn extra income. However, when her husband died in 1998, she was left with six children and had to take on other jobs to support them, taking her away from her true passion, weaving. When she was about 50 years old, she was able to start weaving again, creating waist strings or ‘shing kyit’ for Kachin outfits and selling them at local textile shops or to friends and family.

“Since I could not earn much from weaving, I had to work other jobs [when my husband passed away]. But at my old age, I can only say, my time is wasted doing other things. Now that I am able to weave again, I am determined to give it my all. I also want to make sure I pass on these traditional skills to the next generation – thus, I decided to teach my daughter-in-law who lives with me,” she says.

When our team last visited Daw La Bwi, they found the formidable lady surrounded by a group of women watching closely how she handled the yarn, eager to learn from her. In the safety of her own home, Daw La Bwi is now weaving a 100% silk piece for a Turquoise Mountain client, a challenging design that only she has been able to master.

Weaver in Bamiyan Credit Turquoise Mountain

A carpet weaver in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Turquoise Mountain continues to support weavers like Khairul Nesa and Daw La Bwi Lu Jan in Afghanistan and Myanmar, countries with great weaving traditions. Despite their differences, both women come from textile traditions that have evolved and are practised in much the same way. Both women learned their craft from their mothers, both are able to earn a much-needed income through their skills and both weave at home. Afghanistan and Myanmar have been cut off from international markets for decades, but women like Khairul and Daw La Bwi are ensuring that the unique designs and techniques of their communities are preserved, shared and continue to be practised in the future.

If you, like us, are inspired by these creative and determined artisans, please consider supporting our projects in Afghanistan and Myanmar. The easiest way to do so is to donate, at the link here.