Empowering women through crafts

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Daw Zin Mar Oo (left) and Daw Say Klo of the YWCA. (Photos by Rasmus Steijner)

Yuwaddy Center is a humble new addition to a growing scene of trendy outlets and cafes along Bogalayzay Street. Walking into the air-conditioned modern and casual interior, you first notice the display of brilliantly colorful and stylish bags, cushions and other soft fabric goods to the right. Taking a closer look, you might notice that they are well-designed using the most beautiful of traditional fabrics from different regions in Myanmar, with price tags much more affordable than other shops selling similar goods.

A fragrance of freshly ground coffee fills the air as you walk further inside—the shop also serves as a café and meeting space. Friendly staff members with great English serve coffee grown in Thandaunggyi and deliciously moist carrot cake among other items.

Shelf with colorful fabric pillows and bags.

In the shop, adjacent to the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) building, display shelves with baskets made from recycled materials, colorful fabric pencil cases and beaded necklaces stand around the room, enticing the customer to pick them up and feel the texture and quality. The dresses are designed in attractive fabrics without fuss and the food products, such as natural honey, without additives.

The designs of the products show an astute sense of what the customer really practically needs: the handbags are large enough for a laptop or maybe some groceries, the toiletry bags have strong zips and the cushion covers are removable for machine washing.

But more importantly than all the aforementioned is that the Yuwaddy Center is a social enterprise which is giving opportunities to underprivileged women in post-conflict areas of Thandaunggyi and other parts of Karen State.

“This is for the empowerment of the women who have a lack of access to the market,” explains Say Klo, assistant general secretary of YWCA, which is behind the social enterprise project. “The main focus is to increase their income. That empowers them.”

Baskets made from recycled material.

In 2016, the team of volunteers and staff, through the YWCA, began giving training in women’s empowerment and capacity training as well as business and marketing guidance. General secretary of YWCA and the driving force behind the project, Daw Zin Mar Oo, and her team advised the women producers about the products. After nearly two years of work behind the scenes, the center opened its doors in December, connecting the women to wider market.

“Why people should support this center is because they should support the work of women in rural areas and to see the talents and creativity they have and help them to generate income,” says Say Klo.

There is no other café in Yangon serving this Thandaunggyi coffee. Women coffee farmers based in the area can get a much better price for their product at the center than by selling to a local middle man. In fact, on all the products in this shop, a whopping 70 percent of the retail price goes right back to the women producers.

“We would like to distribute our products to other shops but they ask for an unfair service charge—often around 20 percent. So we want to link with hotels and restaurants who may want to use the products. In fact many of our products can be made to order,” says Daw Zin Mar Oo.

“But a challenge is that we need more capital. We have to wait until we sell the products so that we can recycle that income again.”

The team also offers cooking classes and has the perfect facilities for those who want to sign up for a class or even for clients to hold their own cooking classes. Coming from various parts of Myanmar, the team has a range of traditional cuisines that can be taught. The whole experience, from going to the market for ingredients, cooking together and sharing the resulting traditional meal while discussing the background of the cuisine and culture, is an enriching experience for visitors to Yangon and residents alike.

Address: 119 Bogalazay Street, Yangon

Phone: 09 421 474 560

Email: [email protected]

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9:30am-5:30pm

 

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