American NGO Provides Grants for Covid-Hit Families

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Four Khmu artisans demonstrate the stage of creating a Nature Bag from a plant stem while a young boy makes it a family affair.
Four Khmu artisans demonstrate the stage of creating a Nature Bag from a plant stem while a young boy makes it a family affair.

The American NGO Charity JungleVine® Foundation has provided USD 10,000 to Lao JungleVine Production Promotion Co., Ltd., to be given as relief grants to family members during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anousith Phonethasith (left) examines the electronic receipt for the $10,000 Covid relief grant while maintaining safe distancing.
Anousith Phonethasith (left) examines the electronic receipt for the $10,000 Covid relief grant while maintaining safe distancing.

Managing Partner of Lao JungleVine® Production Promotion Co., Ltd., Anousith Phonethasith, said the grants are to help ease the financial repercussions of the pandemic among the extended family members of the Lao company’s partners.

It is estimated that nearly 100 people will benefit directly from the money, and hundreds more indirectly will feel relief as the money is spent and ripples through the Lao economy.

Almost 100 percent of businesses and companies in Luang Prabang province have had problems since the pandemic hit Laos and more than 60 percent of them have had to close.

Managing Director of the NGO, Bill Newbrough, said the charity has accelerated schedules on some of its humanitarian activities in order to help more Lao people struggling with the loss of tourism jobs and the closing of businesses.

Newbrough cited as an example the immediate hiring of a full-time property manager for the JungleVine® Research Retreat in Luang Prabang where work is done to assess the interaction of the vine with animals, insects, and other plants as well as the general environment

(Left) Mrs Yeuan, blind since she was a child, has economic empowerment because she can make a bag to be purchased as a fashion accessory in Spain. (Right) Mrs. Nai peals off the green shell holding the ribbon.
(Left) Mrs. Yeuan, blind since she was a child, has economic empowerment because she can make a bag to be purchased as a fashion accessory in Spain. (Right) Mrs. Nai peals off the green shell holding the ribbon.

The new property manager’s salary is supporting his entire family, all of whom have lost their jobs in the hospitality industry. How they would survive and maintain their home and land without the salary earned by the property manager is difficult to imagine, according to Newbrough.

JungleVine is a natural, organic, vegan earth-friendly cord made by hand in remote Khmu villages by artisans working from their homes.

Since 2005, the NGO has helped the Khmu artisans enter the global marketplace from their isolated settlements by serving as their marketing partner to 330 boutiques in 25 different countries and territories.

Remote Khmu villages in Oudomxai province create JungleVine© by opening the stems of a mountainside plant and extracting thin white ribbons, twisting them into silk-sheened yarn that has great strength, resists fungus, and remains durable indefinitely through multiple wet/dry cycles. Neither sun nor rain affects the strength and integrity of JungleVine®.

Khmu artisans in other provinces including Bokeo and Luang Namtha also turn the yarn into clothing, cleaning products, and the traditional Khmu NatureBag.

Traditional style Khmu NatureBag.
NatureBag.ORG

The Khmu bag was used extensively in Vientiane and other locations during the most recent Indochina war as an essential carrying device. Until 15 years ago it was widely seen in daily use in Khmu populated areas of most northern provinces. Bags easily made from recycled fabric have replaced it as an everyday carrying tool, although these bags do not have the strength, durability, or functionality of the traditional Khmu bag.

In addition to its global market, the Khmu have linked the bags crafted today to shops such as Carol Cassidy Silks in Vientiane and night markets around the nation.

Alleviating poverty, preserving an ancient craft, empowering women, and mitigating global warming by reducing greenhouse gases are the missions of the Nature Bag project, according to Phonethasith.

(Left) Mrs. Bua twists the vine ribbon into yarn by hands and legs while nurturing her infant. (Right) Mrs. Ping with baby son Kham on her back crafts a Nature Bag.
(Left) Mrs. Bua twists the vine ribbon into yarn by hands and legs while nurturing her infant. (Right) Mrs. Ping with baby son Kham on her back crafts a Nature Bag.