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Investing in women

Meet Panthida and Orapin

Orapin learned handicraft skills to support herself and her children

The Chang Rai province in northern Thailand is mountainous, beautiful, and poor, with small agricultural villages dotting the landscape and spread out across a vast terrain. For the families who live here, there are few if any social services within reach. Poverty, isolation, lack of education and accessible health care have provided fertile ground for the spread of HIV and AIDS.

It hasn’t been easy for Panthida, 40, who has lived with HIV for the past 10 years and lost her youngest child to AIDS when he contracted it from her.

“I thought that I would die soon after,” says Panthida, “but I knew my other children needed me.”

It’s much the same for 33-year-old Orapin, who had no knowledge that her fiancé was HIV positive when she married him.

“I thought that he was healthy and would be an active father in the lives of my future kids, but I was wrong. He died 8 months later while I was pregnant,” she says.

Panthida and Orapin became friends at a Plan-supported HIV and AIDS centre. Now, with access to social supports, health services and one another, they are rebuilding their lives.

“We found that the local women who were coming here have handicraft skills,” says Plan’s Kasidit Saothongthong. “Once we realized this, we saw an opportunity to support them.”

By making handicrafts, women like Orapin and Panthida are now earning additional income to support themselves and their children.

“We started with just a few members,” says Kasidit, “and now we have 12 in the group. We hope to expand with more funds and at the same time, we’re working with members on how to make their products more marketable.”

Orapin, who now makes bags, says, “I am teaching others at the centre how to do it and now we are all working together, which is beneficial in so many ways. It makes all of us stronger.”

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