Sop Moei Arts is a non-profit organization which has been working with the Pwo Karen in Sop Moei district of Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand for the last 30 years. The aim of Sop Moei Arts is to provide income generation for an ethnic group who have long faced problems such as poverty and malnutrition.
Living both in the remoter parts of the highlands and the surrounding lowlands, Karen communities are held together by a strong set of beliefs, culture and a unique way of life. They often face disadvantage in the labour market due to their ethnic identity, poor fluency in the Thai language and lack of education.
By employing skills such as weaving and basket-making at which they already excel, Pwo villagers are able to earn an income which can make a significant difference to their lives. At the same time, the preservation of age-old skills in Sop Moei district ensures that these traditional skills continue to flourish.
Public Health Project
Sop Moei Arts originally began as a public health project. It was founded in 1977 by Kent and Britt-Marie Gregory amongst the Pwo Karen in this region. During this time, there was no health care available for local villagers. The nearest hospital lay two days journey away by foot. The health project targeted mothers and children up to the age of five; this included family planning, pre- and post-natal care, midwife services, the free monitoring of child health and whatever medical needs arose. Basic health education was also a part of this program. Over the years Sop Moei Arts has worked in fifteen villages with its mobile health clinic.
In 1988, Kent expanded the project into income-generating activities. Despite the best endeavours of the health project, child malnutrition was impossible to tackle unless families had the means of earning money for food supplementation.
With SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) assistance, Kent started a textile weaving and basket making project. These are aimed at helping the Pwo Karen attain sustainable livelihoods by which they can support their families’ health needs. The level of child malnutrition has since decreased significantly.