Have some unanswered questions from the previous blog? Perhaps it was all a bit abstract and you are seeking a more practical explanation.

Wonderful! I would love to provide an example of how Ways of Change hopes to see our partnership with refugee artisans eventuate.

Below is an entirely fictitious and simplified example conceived in my idealist imagination. While this example simplifies the several complexities of a person’s life while resettling, it demonstrates that entrepreneurial and self-reliant skills can have an enormous and positive impact during a person’s resettlement. What this example does not include is the even further potential for positive impact that this person may have on their community, locally, nationally or universally.

Ways of Change is working with a community of refugees on the border of Thailand and Burma. After holding several workshops, we have collaboratively developed a few items that Ways of Change will sell. In order to produce these products to the highest quality standards, the artisans have decided that they are in need of sewing and product design training. It has also come up during the workshops that the communities are interested in entrepreneurial and basic financial literacy training. Ways of Change notes that as an organization that will be purchasing goods from this community and wanting this to be an empowering relationship, it is our responsibility to provide these trainings.

The trainings are offered to the entire community. Now that the artisans’ sewing and product design skills are honed, Ways of Change places an order for a number of bags from the artisans. When they are complete, we purchase them all, as agreed. While Ways of Change is working hard to sell the bags, we are also collaborating with the community to find what type of holistic community projects they would like to implement in their village. The community identifies that they do not currently have access to electricity, which means that children cannot do homework after 6pm (when the sun goes down), they often burn resources for light and they feel unsafe walking after dark. Ways of Change collaborates with a local organization that has experience working with both local communities and refugee camps to develop solar panels out of used glass bottles.

Ways of Change is able to use revenue from the sales of the bags to support this project. The local organization works with the refugee community in order to identify the community’s existing skills in this field as well as their needs and preferences in regards to the set up of electricity in the village.

At the end of the solar electricity project, several people in the village have learned how to design and build solar panels using used glass bottles, administer the necessary wiring, determine the best placement of the solar panels and maintain the panels. These individuals have a thorough understanding of how solar electricity is captured, held, and distributed throughout a community.

Two years down the line, after a few other trainings and projects incorporating permaculture techniques have taken place, individuals begin to leave the village for various reasons. Some choose to return to Burma and rebuild their life there, while others accept an offer to be resettled in a third country.

One woman, Mu-Ha, a single mother with two children returns to Burma. Her family, who she reunites with upon return, help Mu-Ha to build her new home. She finds out that most of her community mines lead in order to feed their family and afford school fees for children. Instead of mining lead, Mu-Ha decides that she will continue to design and create bags in order to support herself. She sets up a small business, calling upon her entrepreneurial training and experience from working with Ways of Change in the village. In her free-time she begins to cultivate the small plots of land which her and her family have, utilizing her permaculture skills which she learned in the village. Her and her family are now able to subsidize their diets with more nutrient rich vegetables and trade some of them for fish.

Khun Duang is resettled in the United States, Burlington, Vermont to be exact. He is initially provided with accommodation in a crowded apartment complex, a living stipend and a social worker who gives him a list of potential factory jobs. Khun Duang is struggling to make ends meet, but when he finds a shared community garden space where neighbors can rent a small plot of land to grow a “backyard” garden, he feels that the money is worth it because of the known positive impact which gardening had on his mental health while living in the village. Here, he uses his traditional farming skills combined with some permaculture techniques he learned while living in the village in Thailand. Through the community garden he meets individuals with similar interests and finds out about a housing community called Burlington Cohousing East Village, where sustainable skills, which Khun Duang hand learned about and had a keen interest in, were valued and used to create a self-reliant community. A few years down the line and Khun Duang is a part of Burlington Cohousing East Village, where he regularly runs workshops for his community, the surrounding communities and students from the University of Vermont on how to build and maintain solar panels using used glass bottles.

The end!

I hope this paints a clear picture of Ways of Change’s vision and belief in the enormous potential of all people.

You can if you think you can!


Co-founder @ Ways of Change