Friday, December 10, 2010

A Season of Hope

In the days leading up to Artreach, someone approached me about the event and said that a friend of theirs wasn't coming because she didn't believe that the profits would actually made it back into the hands of the artisans who made the products. I was a little dumbstruck. And sad. It stuck with me that whole week, the thought of how easily cynicism can take hold of our lives and our ministries. 

Cynicism breeds inaction. If you're a cynic, you think, "The world's corrupt. Nothing works. Why bother?" I know this because I've been there and still struggle with those thoughts from time to time. In Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne returns home from a summer spent alongside Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta and begins working at one of America's largest megachurches. He writes, "Sometimes I just got cynical. That was the easiest thing to feel, as cynicism takes very little energy." 

His words were convicting. It is easier to see what's wrong in this world than to do something about it. In fact, a whole bunch of things are wrong with this world and they break my heart. But as Christians, we have a larger view. I ran across this anonymous quote recently, "Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when He could do something about it, but I'm afraid He would ask me the same thing."

We don't follow an inactive God. He is alive and active through His church, which is His body, His arms and legs. And cynicism has a crippling effect on what His body can accomplish in this world.

The antidote for cynicism? Hope. Simple (but often hard to hold on to) hope. Dr. Salai, HCHT's beloved translator, has become a hero of hope in my life. His story humbles me. In 2001 at the age of 73, he stood in his academic regalia (he has a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in agriculture) in a one-man protest against the oppressive regime in his homeland of Burma. After decades of working to improve the lives and welfare of Burma's ethnic minorities, he stood up to the powerful government. He was promptly imprisoned and sentenced to 7 years in the notorious Insein Prison. While in prison, Dr. Salai staged a hunger strike in order to have access to his Bible. After 18 months of tireless efforts by his family, he was released. Dr. Salai has had a lifetime of experience from which to grow cynical. But he is one of the most hope-filled people I know.   

In the pamphlet he shared with Artreach visitors, Dr. Salai writes, "In  fighting injustice, there should be no neutrals. The neutrals are with the oppressors. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Many people have taken up arms to fight injustice. But there is another way to acquire democracy peacefully. I believe that prayer changes things."

As we enter the Christmas season, the word "hope" is thrown around ad naseum. After a while, it loses meaning. This year, I'll be reflecting on eradicating cynicism from my life. And replacing it with real hope, real action in the face of injustice, and real faith in the power of prayer.  

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."
Romans 12:12

On another note, thank you to all who came out to Artreach this year. It was another wonderful day of celebration of ministries and artisans from all over the world. Thanks to your generosity, we were able to give paychecks to 18 women this month. They are small amounts in the world's eyes, but they make a big difference in the lives of these families. Thank you!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Shopping

If you're looking for places to buy fair and direct trade gifts this year, let us recommend these groups. We'd love for you to link to this list or tweet about this post!

Hill Country Hill Tribers
Hill Country Hill Tribers provides supplemental income and marketable skills to artisans in Austin’s refugee community. By weaving and sewing, these women are creating a new sense of community in this country while remembering their homelands. Proceeds are given directly back to the artisan who made each piece.

Noonday Collection
Noonday Collection offers inspired accessories handcrafted by artisans who receive a living, fair wage for their work. We believe that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice good design and style in order to support fair trade ventures.

The CDK Project
The CDK Project is empowering oppressed women around the globe through employment in the craft of jewelry-making. We are instilling dignity and hope, while bringing you authentically rare jewelry.

Eternal Threads
Eternal Threads is dedicated to improving the lives of women and children most at risk by providing sustainable livelihoods through income generating projects. Eternal Threads began as an outreach to India, but now includes projects in Nepal, Afghanistan, Thailand and Madagascar.

Freedom Stones
Freedom Stones is committed to eliminating and preventing human trafficking through livelihoods projects that transform and develop vulnerable communities. Our aim is to transform individuals and entire communities so that they can begin walking in their God-given destinies free from extreme poverty, oppression and injustice.

Makarios & Dominican Joe
Makarios is a faith-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educational development in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other impoverished areas of the world. We are committed to a child’s spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, to provide hope for a better future.

Ethical City
Ethical City collaborates with faith-based organizations in Austin to host fair trade global bazaars. Ethical City’s products include baskets made by a widow’s cooperative in Ghana, jewelry from India and Afghanistan, metal work from Haiti, and gift cards made by orphans in Rwanda.

The Kibo Group
Beads sold by the Kibo Group are made of recycled paper by Ugandan women who are seeking to reach up and out of poverty. The Kibo Group helps facilitate development and job training in the remote Busoga
villages. Your purchase helps rural African women have hope for a better life.

Village of Hope
Village of Hope is an orphanage in Ghana for orphaned, abandoned, destitute and needy children. These products were made by students at the Vocational Training Centre, where street children are taught employable skills to help them leave the streets. All proceeds go back to supporting Village of Hope in their mission to provide a better life for these children.

Hanna Galo
Hanna Galo is a refugee from Iraq who has been working hard to establish a new life in Austin during the past year. His handcrafted beaded crosses are more than a hobby—it’s his mission. When people look at the crosses he makes, he wants them to remember that there is a God who is with them, even in the toughest toughest of circumstances.

(If you're interested in purchasing Village of Hope bags or Hanna Galo's crosses, e-mail us at and we'll try to connect you with the right people.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Artreach New Product Giveaway!

Hill Country Hill Tribers is gearing up for our flagship event:


You can read the stories behind each of the amazing vendors and learn details about the event itself at

In order to spread the word about the event, HCHT is giving away three of our newest up-cycled products, all made by Hser Kuq Moo and Ku Lo, our most proficient sewers. They've been working so hard and a lot of time the weavers get all of the attention, so we wanted to feature the work of these two women and tell you a bit more about them.
Hser Kuq Moo and Ku Lo are pictured above (and yes, Ku Lo's shirt says "Lefties Do It Right"). They are both members of the Karen hill tribe. They each have two small children, though Ku Lo is pregnant with another baby due in January. They manage to make beautiful, meticulous products at home while their husbands work as housekeeping staff in local hotels. Though Hser Kuq Moo's mother Law Gay (also one of our artisans) taught her how to weave, Hser Kuq Moo would much rather sew. In the last few months, with the introduction of some of our new products, both women have been able to contribute to their families' incomes and support their young children (and even a couple of friends living with them). To celebrate Hser Kuq Moo and Ku Lo's hard work, we're giving away three of their latest items.

Product 1: Rice-Cycled Bibs

Made from up-cycled rice bags, these baby bibs are as cute as they are functional. They're an adorable way to help your baby go green! They normally retail for $8. (With all three of these products, the ones pictured will not necessarily be the ones being given away. Each HCHT product is unique and if you win, we'll give you some options to choose from.)

Product 2: Rice-Cycled Pouches

These up-cycled rice bag pouches come in a variety of different sizes and no two are alike. The Three Ladies one pictured above is my absolute favorite! The sizes and prices of these vary; they make great stocking stuffers and can be used for pencils, make-up, or anything small and portable.

Product 3: Burlap Tote Bags

Made from up-cycled burlap sacks from Third Coast Coffee, these tote bags are fashionable and practical. They normally retail at $22. They're big enough to slip in a laptop or some books; they have a clasp at the top and a small pocket to keep things organized. Each bag is lined with different fabrics which add to their individuality; they're a great way to express yourself while helping the environment and supporting our artisans.

To win one of these products, leave a comment on this blog saying that you have done one of the following things:
  1. Facebook: Invite friends to the Artreach Festival from our Facebook event page (Leave us a note and tell us you're coming, too!). Make sure to tell your friends about this giveaway so they can enter. 
  2. Blog: Put information about Artreach on your blog (we'd love to see the links!).
  3. E-mail: It's old school but it counts! Send your friends the link to the Artreach blog or Artreach event page and invite them to come. 
  4. Twitter: Tweet the Artreach blog or Artreach event page (and while you're at it, sign up to follow HCHT on twitter!)

The contest will go on from Tuesday, November 9 until Tuesday, November 15 at midnight. Leave a comment by then with your name and what you've done to help us spread the word! (And if you live outside of Austin but want to register to win, find a creative way to tell other people about HCHT and we just might count it.) We're excited to see many of you at Artreach this year; the weavers and sewers will be there and you might get the chance to meet the woman who made your new item. The weaving demonstrations alone are worth coming for, but the products available from around the world are truly amazing. So even if you don't win, come to Artreach and you'll feel like you did!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tribal Losses

This Saturday, I spent the morning with people from the indigenous tribes of North America and the afternoon with people from the indigenous tribes of Burma. I had never before made a connection between the two.

I grew up with a close friend who was a descendant of the Ojibwe people. Her family brought me along to cultural events and powwows and I saw how native american traditions were incorporated into their weddings, prayers and everyday life. I witnessed a stronger relationship between nature and spirituality, and a stronger connection to God as Creator and Jesus as the Way. I also discovered that there is nothing in this world more delicious than a Navajo taco served on homemade fry bread.

I've been meaning to share a powwow experience with my family for years, but kept missing the boat. This Saturday was a beautiful introduction. We were able to witness an opening ceremony where all of the dancers entered the circle. The announcer shared the history behind of each group of traditional dancers. There were elderly Goard Dancers, many of whom where veterans of U.S. wars., fringy Grass Dancers, swaying Buckskin Dancers, and my personal favorite, the Northern Fancy Dancers (pictured above). Us northerners sure know how to do it up fancy.

But as the ceremony came to a close, I couldn't help but get a little teary. I looked down and saw hundreds of people with beautiful regalia, each one unique, each one representing a different family or tribe, each one representing loss. It was a reminder that Native Americans weren't (and aren't) one group of people, but hundreds of tribes with thousands of unique cultural traditions, many of which have become tragically extinct.

The women of Hill Country Hill Tribers represent a vast array of cultures and traditions as well. In our meetings, we've slowly learned not to expect common language, even among members of the same tribe. Dialects among the Chin people vary as you travel from one valley to the next. Some tribes wear red for ceremonial dress, others yellow and others green. Weaving and farming were central to the hill tribe way of life for many of the women we know. During a recent interview, Ko Meh (at right) pointed to her cement patio on her second floor apartment and said she missed the soil. My heart is heavy with all that they must miss--extended family, childhood haunts, village traditions, dirt. And I worry about the weight on their shoulders as they struggle to pass on their tribal language, traditions and customs to a younger generation surrounded by the deafening cultural influence of American media.

I can't wait for Artreach. It's a time to celebrate the work of hill tribe artisans and help them incorporate their ancestral home into their new one. Like this weekend's powwow, it will be a colorful demonstration of intricate artistry and beauty. Bound up in the beautiful strands of thread on display that day will be the bittersweet sense of what has been lost and the hope of keeping age-old traditions alive.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Piecing Together a Relationship

Top Row: Huang Nan, Heh Ler Pa, Bo Meh, Meh Mo, Ko Meh
Middle Row: Ee Ee Phioye, Hser Ku Moo, So Meh, Ku Lo and Ma Lay
Bottom Row: Law Gay, Oo Meh, Neh Meh, Not Do Hen, Kar Noo
These are (most of) the women of HCHT. They are some of the most beautiful women I know. They are also some of the hardest women to get to know. Our three years in relationship with the artisans of HCHT is full of tales of miscommunication. When we said bring back one rice bag tote bag and we'll see how it sells, we received more than 100. When we were out of town for 4th of July, we prepped the class for weeks, but still heard that a group gathered outside the locked Village Center wondering where we were.

It's been difficult to establish meaningful relationships when much of the time we feel like we're not able to communicate basic information. This year when we met with the Board (yes, we have a Board!) in January, we felt called to immerse ourselves deeper into these relationships instead of expanding our reach wider to other refugee groups. We've been blessed to have Dr. Salai come to our meetings and help bridge the language gap. We've also been able to meet with many of the women in their homes and hear their stories. They share stories of struggle and--without exception--incredible strength and faith in the midst of it.

This week, I've been sorting through the bags and getting some ready to sell online. It's interesting to see how the personalities of the women are apparent in their weaving and sewing.

Meh Mo's weaving (her blue diamond and X pattern is below) is meticulous and symmetrical, precise and professional. She's the go-to weaver for new product design. But I've also noticed that she enjoys experimenting with different styles, patterns and colors. She likes to play and be creative. Meh Mo is the oldest girl of 10 children. While her other siblings were able to go to school, she stayed back and helped care for the younger children, the farm and the house. She told us that her mother wasn't a big weaver, but she would visit other women in their small village and learn from them. Then she would come home and "play around". I see Meh Mo now so clearly in her work--the perfectionism of the oldest child, the years of careful research and listening, and the joy she finds in the creative play in her craft.

Not Do Hen has been with HCHT since close to the beginning. I've always had a crush on her bags (2nd down on the right). They are rustic and raw and pretty and soft at the same time. She weaves by putting stakes in the tiny patch of dirt outside her apartment and sitting on the ground to weave.We also know her through her daughter, a beautiful teenager who radiates the love and warmth we're sure she received from her mother. I've come to think of her as a hardscrabble woman who is raw and honest, but overarchingly nurturing, loving and kind.

Ku Lo is our super sewer. It's been a struggle finding sewing projects that are easy to make, easy to sell and use sustainable materials. She has had the patience of a saint as she sewed bag after bag and earned little. She has the kind of sticktoitiveness  I admire. And she's also one of the most positive, energetic and funny people I know. She has the entire class in stitches at least once a meeting. Dr. Salai will just look at us, shrug his shoulders and say, "Doesn't translate." Even without translation, I know her through her work. The simple, perfect stitches, the odd zippers I'm guessing she gathered from used clothing at Goodwill, and her ability to stay upbeat when months and months go by with little results from hard work.

It's been so much fun this week playing with bags and realizing that the clues to knowing these women are threaded throughout their work. No wonder I'm having a hard time putting them up for sale!  I'm reminded of a passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus says we will know people by the fruit they produce. In their weaving, in the character of their children, and in their stories of interminable faith and strength, we have come to know the artisans this year on a much deeper level. And for that, we are truly grateful, blessed and honored.


Friday, October 22, 2010

What is Really Lost in Translation

Dr. Salai
It is difficult for us, the American volunteers, to communicate with our artisans. Part of that difficulty is language--some of our women speak Burmese, the ones who could afford to go to town or to a school where they learned the national language. Some of them only speak their hill tribe dialect, Karen, Karenni, Kachin or Shan. So when our Burmese translator is there, we often need a second translator (usually a sister or friend) to translate into the hill tribe dialect. One of our weavers, Oo Meh, is hard of hearing. When Oo Meh is there, we will say something in English, Dr. Selai (our beloved Burmese translator) repeats it in Burmese, then Koe Meh shouts it into Karenni for her sisters, Oo Meh and Meh Mo. It's an awkward (and sometimes loud) way to communicate, but we laugh a lot about it.

We limp along in our many languages. But no language can prepare me to understand what happened to the women in Burma. When we ask the how they came over here, their answers are usually simple: "The army came to our village, we fled across the jungle, then we stayed in Thailand for 19 years." Or, "When the army came, we hid in the jungle. My father was killed by a landmine. My mother helped the rest of us cross the border." And I cannot fathom what that must be like.

Nothing in my privileged American framework gives me any understanding of the terrible indecision they describe, of not knowing whether they should run when a messenger comes (if one comes at all) saying the junta is not far behind. Because leaving doesn't just mean running for their lives, it means leaving behind everything they have ever known, the fields their families have worked for generations without end, the huts they built with their hands or their parents built, the hills that nurtured them and sustained their families. I cannot imagine watching my father killed by a landmine in the jungle.  I cannot think of fleeing with my own two daughters nto a jungle filled with landmines. I don't know the stench of death, I can't smell my village burning. I don't remember being parted from my husband and never seeing him again. Those are not things I can fathom.

That history is part of our artisans. Every time we hear a story, we peel back a layer of their past and learn more about who they are and what they've overcome. And now, the daily courage they have to face an uncertain future, bewildering bureaucracy, a country that moves too fast in too many directions, humbles me. We are motivated and blessed by the strong, courageous women they are. 


Monday, October 18, 2010

ARTreach 2010 - Telling the Stories

Have we mentioned how much we love ARTreach? We're a little over a month away from the day we look forward to every year. It's the "flagship" event for Hill Country Hill Tribers and features other fair trade vendors representing artisans in need from all over the world. There will be kid's activities, live world music and a unique collection of fair trade jewelry, bags, toys, gifts, coffee and chocolate. So save the date and spread the word! We look forward to seeing all of you there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

May I Have the Definition, Please?

Just three short years ago, I had no idea that Austin was home to thousands of international refugees. In fact, I probably couldn't have told you what the term refugee meant. My entire understanding of the refugee story was limited to the 1986 made-for-TV movie, The Girl Who Spelled Freedom.
It's an inspiring true story of a Cambodian family who escaped the ravages of war. They are taken in by a well-to-do suburban family in middle Tennessee and struggle through language and cultural barriers, at one point preferring to sleep on the floor in a huddle than on the nice beds provided for them. Through the help of committed mentors and teachers, 10-year-old Linn Yann emerges as a prodigy, learns English quickly and goes on to compete in the national spelling bee.

That movie captivated my 8-year-old attention. I couldn't imagine the atrocities of war or having to leave my home for good. But the 8-year-old me also relished in the happy ending. "The good American family helped the good Cambodian family and now we're all done," I thought. And sadly enough, I felt "all done" in regards to the global refugee crisis until more than 20 years later. 

So, what is a refugee? In short, it's a person who has had to leave their home and can't go back. This is due to a variety of reasons, including race, religion and political affiliation. 

It looks like this.
 And this.
 And this.
 And this.
And it's happening in the world as I type. Today. 

The 8-year-old girl inside me wants to hide from these images. To be honest, the 32-year-old inside me does, too. I don't know how to solve the refugee crisis and I'm not sure why it's allowed to continue. I do know that I am a better wife, mother, friend and worker because of the people I have met and worked alongside for the past three years. And I'm honored to have friends who recognized the hurting in our community and dragged me along for the ride. 


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Together for Adoption thoughts

We spent a great day yesterday learning from and meeting from amazing people. At the adoption conference, I'm primarily there as a mother. Karyn Purvis makes me want to change my approach to my parenting now, much less in the future when we adopt. But one of the things she said yesterday particularly stood out to me.

When adopting children who have been through some sort of trauma, whether it be large or small (and all adoptive children have gone through some sort of loss), she kept talking about going to them to join them in their grief rather than making them come to us. I had not associated my desire to adopt with our work with the hilltribers, but that idea connected with me in both ways. We work with people facing the grief of losing their culture and identity, after they have already lost their homes, children or spouses or parents, livelihoods, dignity, and sense of self. The least we can do is go to them and join them in their grief. We can do what Christ did. That's what the name Immanuel means--God among us.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Together for Adoption

2010 National Conference OCTOBER 1-2 | Austin, TX

The Hill Country Hill Tribers team will be at the Together for Adoption conference tomorrow and we're so excited. I expect this to generate a lot of ideas for us in our ministry and in our personal lives as adoptive and pre-adoptive parents. Coming soon--more about how and why we do what we do.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daw Gay and Saw Meh

A few weeks ago, we had two new weavers who came to our weekly Monday meeting. Daw Gay is a single mother with two teenage boys. Saw Meh is her 81-year-old mother (pictured above). Both of the women are weavers. We don't know much yet about their back story. One of the things I can tell you on meeting them is that Saw Meh is strong and sassy. She's not afraid to say what she thinks, a quality that is often rare among our weavers, and is especially amazing considering all that her family has been through.

These two weigh heavily on my heart. With no breadwinner in the family, I'm not sure how they're going to make it. Thankfully, they've been supported since the beginning by a fabulous Presbyterian church in Austin who has committed to being deeply involved in their lives; they're the ones that connected them to us in the first place. But still, I wonder, with very little possibility for employment, what will happen to them in a few months when their refugee support fund runs out. I do know that, when we handed them a loom two weeks ago, Saw Meh's eyes lit up and she was almost giddy for a moment. I can only imagine how nice it is to see something familiar in a strange land.

A few weeks ago, Daw Gay and Saw Meh took a bus to go to an ESL class. They took the wrong number bus on their way home and passed the night wandering around Austin. Daw Gay can write her name, painfully, but I'm not sure how literate they are. They didn't have a phone with them, nor their address to ask for directions. They ended up spending the night tucked under a bridge in Austin, two small Karen women alone in an unknown city.

The next morning, they were reunited with their worried sons because of some amazing people in the Karen community. They now have a phone and friends watching out for them. There is no one to blame--these kinds of things just happen. But I cannot help feeling like somehow, this should not be.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meh Mo and Koe Meh

One of the reasons we'd like to start blogging is that it gives us a chance to tell the stories of our weavers. We love these women and really enjoy getting to know them. If you've ever met us or seen us interact with the weavers, you know that getting to know them is not always an easy thing for us. We'll tell you more soon about our regular meetings. But recently, we've been sitting down with the women one-on-one or in families to get to know them better. We began with the Mehs, a nickname we've given a group of Karenni sisters who are fabulous weavers and some of our favorite people.

This is Meh Mo. Meh Mo is a Burmese refugee living in Austin, a member of the Karenni hill tribe. In 1996, the Burmese Army launched a massive village relocation plan aimed at bringing the population under military control and eliminating ethnic resistance. At least 3,000 ethnic villages, including Meh Mo’s, have been destroyed since 1996, displacing or killing over one million people. When the Burmese Army came to her village, Meh Mo’s extended family fled across the border into Thailand, across 25 miles thick with jungle. Meh Mo had already lost her husband and her oldest daughter, and was fleeing with her five small children. But Meh Mo’s sister, Koe Meh was in a much worse condition.

At eight months pregnant, Koe Meh went into labor in the middle of the jungle. While the rest of the family raced on, Koe Meh, her husband and sister Meh Mo, found a refuge of sorts, a village that had already been destroyed by the Burmese army. Meh Mo remembers their frantic search for anything to boil water in so she could clean the newborn baby since the Burmese army busted out the bottoms of the cooking pots. In an abandoned hut in the ransacked village, Koe Meh gave birth to a tiny girl named Shay Meh, now a fourteen-year-old high school student. Two days later, Koe Meh was up running through the jungle again. The family was reunited in a make-shift refugee camp in Thailand, a no-man’s-land they waited in for fourteen years. Unable to work because of their refugee status in Thailand, Meh Mo pushed her family to apply to come to the States. Most of their family moved to Austin in 2009. Two of their brothers are living in Thailand and, through legal issues, will never be reunited with the rest of their family. Their father is dying in a hospital in Austin; they will not see each other again in this life. 

Growing up in their tiny village in Burma, Meh Mo stayed on their rice farm while her 8 younger sisters and brothers all went to a larger city to be educated. She learned to weave the traditional cloth, clothes and bags that women in her village had been making for generations. Meh Mo perfected her craft; her weaving is exquisite and intricate. All of the sisters weave well. But Meh Mo cannot speak English and is not literate in her own language; her employment options are limited. The agencies who brought Meh Mo and the other refugees to Austin are fierce and amazing. Their creative and continuous support of the refugee community has literally saved lives. Refugees come to Austin to give their children a future. Meh Mo is blessed to have a family that supports each other, so she is not as destitute as some of the other women we know, but she and other women like her are struggling to make it in their new lives.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hill Country Hill Tribers Background (part 1)

One day, in the fall of 2007, a group of Karen hill tribers walked into a fall festival our church was having in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Austin. Seeing a group of hill tribers in a sea of Spanish-speakers was surreal; I had spent two summers in Thailand and visited Karen villages there. These hill tribers wore the same hand-woven clothes, spat the same beteljuice, squatted on the hill in the same way as the villagers I'd visited in Thailand. It took us a few minutes of talking to figure out that they were political refugees living in the apartment complex next door and that they were in need of friendship and support. Over the next few months, our two families and some other people from our church got to know the hill tribers. Caren and I each had an almost-one-year-old. The refugee women had young children as well. We noticed their children didn’t have shoes, though it was a cold winter in Austin. We started by buying shoes. Then we asked the women if they could speak English. When we found out they had a hard time getting to their classes, we started an ESL class for them in their neighborhood. But the more we spent time with them, the more we realized they desperately wanted more than charity. They needed a way to support themselves.

Many of the women stayed at home with small children, but they could weave. So we found a yarn distributor in Maine. And we created a fair trade festival at our church in November to sell their bags. The first year, we made $3000 in four hours. And that’s how our non-profit was born; slowly, over many months, Hill Country Hill Tribers became a way to provide supplemental income to Burmese women who stay home with their children. We began with weavers, but we’ve extended it to women who can or want to learn how to sew. Our sewn products are made from up-cycled rice bags and burlap sacks, keeping our supply cost low and our environmental impact high. We provide our artisans with English and sewing lessons so they can learn employable skills that can translate into jobs in the future. Caren is our Marketing Director; I’m the Educational Development Director. Since we do this as volunteer work on the side, we both do a little bit of everything else, along with our amazing husbands and kids, our fantastic board and the amazing friends who work with us from a variety of churches in Austin. You can find out many of the details on our website,, as well as buy some of our beautiful bags. Some of our artisans have moved on to other jobs; others may never be able to work because of language or other difficulties. New refugees come every few months. We will work as long as we can to help these women support their families.