Despite recent political turmoil in Myanmar, life goes on for millions of residents. Please keep them in your prayers, along with our friends at Akhaya, as well as the leaders.
In September we finished our project working with Akhaya, supporting the Silver Smith Vocational Training work. Through this program women have been given income generating skills, as well as empowered with knowledge of their worth, right to safety, and where to turn for help in the case of gender-based violence and harassment.
Last year, our partner in Myanmar, Akhaya, successfully completed its Silver Smith Vocation Training project. The project, which has been supported by Anglican Overseas Aid for the last two years, was due to finish at the end of June, however was extended for three months due to COVID lockdowns, finishing at the end of September.
The project goals were to train disadvantaged women in the art of silver smithing to so they can increase their income, to change the widespread belief that women are not capable of making quality jewellery, and to increase the awareness of gender based violence so that women know their rights, are more resilient, and know where to get the help they need.
Through the program, despite some challenging circumstances, Akhaya trained 13 female Silver Smiths through three basic silver smith courses, and of these women, four also learned advanced silver smith techniques. The trainees learned how to design and produce silver jewellery from raw materials, a process that also including some stoneware techniques to allow them to fulfill all the practical tasks that come along with commercial jewellery trade.
While the project has come to a close, a workshop has been set up in partnership with a local Anglican Church in Thandaungyi, one of the key areas for the project because of the lack of income opportunity for Karen women, who are an ethnic minority. This way the legacy of the project will continue, allowing two of the trained Silver Smiths to continue creating jewellery, leading a functioning workshop. Supported by the Akhaya team with the silver working tools they need, an oven, as well as an initial supply of silver and jewellery stones, they are running a fully functioning workshop and already have six orders per month from the local community.
Importantly, there are also plans to develop the capacity of the workshop to use it as a youth empowerment program, with the two silver smiths in residence training local young people in vocational skills.
Other trainees who wish to continue working as silver smiths have also been assisted in setting up in their local communities (including in Yangon and Twantay), with seven sets of silver smith tools distributed, and internships and practical job opportunities discussed with local jewellery businesses.
More than simply training women in income generating skills, the program sought to change attitudes in society that dictated what types of employment were appropriate for women, and show what women are capable of. In Myanmar a women’s body is considered dirty and spiritually unclean, to the point that women are regarded as second-class citizens. This means that women are excluded from many fields and occupations, including the art of silver smithing.
The workshop in Thandaungyi is challenging this prevailing attitude as the first female led workshop in the area. Alongside the training, the women also take part in Gender-Based Violence Awareness trainings. These sessions aim to improve their knowledge on their rights, what gender-based violence looks like, sexual and workplace harassment, and to give them the skills to protect themselves in their everyday lives, as well as knowledge of where to seek help.
Aye Chan Moe, one of the silver smiths in Thandaungyi, says that the participating in the Silver Smith Vocational Training has changed her life. She is also one of the two silver smiths that has been employed at Thandaungyi.
“We learned a lot from Akhaya’s training and now we have a workshop in our hometown. This means that I can work in my own town and I don’t have to live away from my family. I also can earn enough to support my parents now. I enjoy practicing what I’ve learned, making creative jewellery – and it’s so satisfying to see the customers happy.”
Rev Saw Tin Ohn, the priest at the Anglican Church that is supporting the project says that the workshop is an both exciting and innovative for the area and is looking forward to the opportunities that it will bring.
“We are grateful that Akhaya has supported us to establish the silver smith workshop; we have never had something like this in our area. I am confident that it can create job opportunities for the local community, as well as show women’s capability in the silver smith industry. We have seen the local community embrace the project and learn along with us.”