Weaving a Better Life for Their Families

The 2004 Boxing-day Tsunami destroyed the livelihood for many people in Western Simeulue, West Aceh in Indonesia. The Norwegian Red Cross initiated livelihood development activities through organising 11 groups and training them in different aspects of business management, as well as establishing an umbrella organisation to coordinate activities after the project is finished, by the end of 2009.Mat weaving is an old tradition in Sigulai, as well as in other places in Simeulue. The mats have many applications, from covering floors, to materials for containers for rice and other things. They are also used as gifts during wedding ceremony, and young girls start weaving their mats from an early age in preparation for this.

Meeting with the victims of the 2004 Boxing-day tsunami, the Norwegian Red Cross was urged to help them start livelihood activities. They decided to organise women in groups and train them, so that they might generate income to help their families. Mat weaving turned out to be a popular activity as basis for such groups, including with the Melekhewa (“diligent”) group in the Sigulai village, counting 49 members.

Jami is the senior member of the Melekhewa group. She is a widow with seven children, and works hard to help them through university – five have already finished, and the last two are now studying! She describes the benefits of joining the group, underlining the cooperation between the women, developing new products like bags, tissue boxes and more. The training on how to run a small business has been very important, as has the group marketing and sales efforts been. For those investing their revenue in opening a small business, the access to saving and borrowing money through a microfinance scheme has also been a fantastic support.

For Jami, the income from weaving mats has been a means to educating her children. Others have started small businesses; small shops or cafes, trading cloth or other products, breeding chicken or fish, and more.

Suryawati works for Aspekasi, the umbrella organisation set up to help the women groups develop further, assisting with marketing and sales, and coordinating microfinance activities. She tells us that the 11 groups differ in size and focus. The smallest group has 25 members, while the largest has 70. The total number of members is about 450, much larger than the original target of 240 – and most are growing. Some groups are more focused on mat weaving, others on micro finance and savings, and some are more active than other.

Suryawati is optimistic about the future, and thinks the groups as well as Aspekasi are maturing and can manage after the project ends later this year. Even if some members are worried about losing the regular follow-up, most realise that the training they have gone through and the time spent together have strengthened them so that they now can function independently. Judging from the Melekhewa women, she just may be right!

Senior member Ibu Jami (right) with Ibu Suryawati from Aspekasi.  Photo © Basil Rolandsen (http://bouvetmedia.com)

Senior member Ibu Jami (right) with Ibu Suryawati from Aspekasi. 

Photo © Basil Rolandsen (http://bouvetmedia.com)

The Melekhewa (“diligent”) mat-weaving group was founded after the 2004 tsunami, and has 49 active members. They weave traditional mats and other related articles, and sell them with support from the umbrella organisation “Aspekasi”. In addition to the members, we see Livelihood Programme Officer Abdul Rozak Tanjung (right) and Red Cross Delegate Erna Skau (behind Rozak). Photo © Basil Rolandsen (http://bouvetmedia.com)

The Melekhewa (“diligent”) mat-weaving group was founded after the 2004 tsunami, and has 49 active members. They weave traditional mats and other related articles, and sell them with support from the umbrella organisation “Aspekasi”. In addition to the members, we see Livelihood Programme Officer Abdul Rozak Tanjung (right) and Red Cross Delegate Erna Skau (behind Rozak).

Photo © Basil Rolandsen (http://bouvetmedia.com)

NorCross Mat-weaving Livelihood Project

  • Responding to the emergency after the 2004 Boxing-day Tsunami, the Norwegian Red Cross (NorCross) initiated several projects in the Indonesian province Aceh, North Sumatra, in close co-operation with the Indonesian Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (PMI).
  • Activities on the island of Simeulue, situated in the western part of Aceh, included both infrastructure development and capacity building, the livelihood projects being a part of the latter.
  • A total of 450 women have joined of one of 11 village-based groups established as a part of the project, each with from 25 to 70 members.
  • The women have received training, included in small business management and micro finance.
  • The groups are based on weaving traditional mats, and help with diversifying products, as well as organising sales. They also operate micro-finance saving and borrowing for their members, enabling them to start small-scale businesses.
  • The project also established the umbrella organisation Aspekasi, which assists the groups with marketing and sales, as well as with coordinating microfinance activities.