Dia got married just over a year ago. Her new husband was a driver who took children to school in a rented van. Before they had celebrated their first anniversary, however, disaster struck. Dia’s husband lost the use of his legs. Surgery has brought back some of his mobility, but he will probably not drive again. “So that is why I went to driving school,” says Dia, “and now I have my license!”
Born in the hills north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Dia grew up with five siblings in a farming community. Although her parents, members of the Karen ethnic group, were poor and illiterate, they made sure Dia received an education. She studied at the village primary school and later at the secondary school in the nearby town. “When I completed 10th grade I went to Chiang Mai,” Dia says, “And that is where I got my chance.”
The “chance” she mentions is a two-year vocational program offered by a Roman Catholic foundation. Designed to empower disadvantaged young women and to reduce the risk of trafficking, this residential institute trains and certifies its students in tailoring, and provides additional educational opportunities as well. Dia received financial assistance for boarding, and paid minimal fees for the sewing course in which she excelled. At the same time, she continued her high school studies on weekends in order to graduate.
“The sisters helped me find my first job,” Dia recalls, “but soon I returned to teach there at the school. For seven years I taught design, pattern-making and sewing.” She adds that she also spent that time studying for her bachelor degree. “My dedication paid off,” she says, “I decided it was time to go off on my own, and that is when I met HOPE.”
Dia and her group of three seamstresses – all fellow classmates – have been sewing for HOPE since 2011. As the co-op leader, Dia has responsibility for taking orders and delegating jobs, checking for quality and ensuring that everyone receives fair compensation. The co-op is based in the village where Dia lives with her husband, in-laws and nephew. The finished products are transported twenty minutes by truck along a dirt track to the nearest town, where they are collected by the Hopes.
When asked about her new license and whether she plans to start driving a school bus, Dia replies, “No, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that responsibility yet!” For the time being, however, she has been compensating for her husband’s loss of income in other ways. Besides making clothing to sell in the market, she is collecting discarded appliances and second-hand bits and pieces to sell at the recycling center. “For me, life has become more challenging lately, but with steady work from HOPE and extra jobs on the side, everything will be OK,” says Dia, with her characteristic optimism and drive.