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The Sawangboran Project – A Community of Learning
Every member has her own specific expertise, honed more purposely within our project. It is impossible to measure or quantify the wealth of living traditional knowledge that this cumulatively represents, as it is qualitative and sensitive wealth.
Sawang Boran does not interfere with the traditional mode of learning weaving in the family. Most of the artisans were already skilled when they joined us. Sawang Boran’s job has been to steer the deepening of their respective talents – for a weaving technique, or a particular colour, or a combination.
While such ‘counseling’ was done individually at first, it became more effective and less time-consuming to let it happen within the group as a whole, where individuals’ respective expertise could take a teaching role for other members.
Sawang Boran thus holds an all-members’ meetings every month – every topic, colour, technique, every piece of weaving, every price, are open for discussion, ideas and the sharing of information.
This is supportive for less experienced weavers who get effective guidance rapidly, and for careless artisans who, under collective scrutiny by their peers, soon tend to improve their performance with the help of some friendly advice. Furthermore, at these meetings every weaver’s earnings are calculated for all to know, and to question if necessary – a very important educational aspect of anchoring fair trade in the minds of women accustomed to poor pay and to not challenging it.
All this knowledge sharing and discussion on all aspects of Sawang Boran fuels individual and collective pride, and thus gradually encourages the emergence of a true community under the Sawang Boran banner.
The trickiest is the nurturing of a crucial skill in this kind of venture, leadership. Younger weavers who have a natural capacity can feel hampered by the cultural obligation to obey elders – thus it is difficult for them to ‘correct’ elders’ mistakes. Criticism among equals can be interpreted as causing a ‘loss of face’. Open dialogue within the group combined with the celebration of every member’s talents, make it possible to encourage nearly every member to take special responsibility and thus leadership for something – be it a colour or technique, or an ability to do accounts or quality control.
Other know-how such as garment-making needs to be learnt from outside. Sawang Boran pays for the training of interested young members, and gives interest-free loans for the purchase of members’ sewing machines and looms (these are not owned by the company). We want our seamstresses to be local, as they understand the local fabrics better than outsiders, and because this increases local income generation.
Generally, it is company policy to subsidise any training obtained from outside the group, as well as travel for weavers to gain exposure and networking.