Blessings in the time of Covid

Blessings in the time of Covid

Six months into the pandemic and closed borders, we’ve had some time to reflect. If you are interested in reading our thoughts on how we’ve tried to find blessings in this Covid time, read on. We’d love to hear what you’ve been up to too, so please reach out and share your experiences and thoughts.
ock pop tok laos portrait founder joanna smith - Blessing
  • Jo here.

The last few months have been a roller coaster, as I’m sure it has been for many of you. We’ve tried to find blessings in this Covid time. In addition to the pandemic bearing down on all of us, my partner and I welcomed our newborn son into the family. A newborn, Covid and the world changing in an instant—it all happened seemingly in one swoop.

I am just now coming up for air, and I have questions: Where exactly did the last six months go? How are all of you doing? How are each of you adjusting to the ‘new normal’ (and the pandemic language!) and moving forward? Please reach out and share your stories, because our community is as important as ever.

To give you an idea of OPT’s past six months, here’s a recap. On March 20th 2020, we gathered the team in the main building of the Living Crafts Centre to announce we were closing Ock Pop Tok for the next month or two. The sky was an ominous black, and then, suddenly the power went out. Thankfully someone laughed and the tension seemed to flow out. Even though this was a heartbreaking decision and a heartbreaking moment, we could still laugh. This is the Lao way: to persevere even in the worst of times. To find a way to behave gracefully, or even a little comically, just to get through.

This is the Lao way: to persevere even in the worst of times.

So, everyone went home with a full salary and promise of more full salary to come. Three days later Laos closed its international borders, and we went into lockdown. Fast forward 6 months. Laos is still closed, and although we have only 22 cases and the domestic lockdown has been lifted, we remain far away from the rest of the world.

It’s no secret that I love sports, so one way I’ve been able to relate to the events of 2020 is to frame it as an analogy. It’s as if for the past 20 years, we were playing football/soccer, learning the skills, the strategy, developing each other’s strengths, playing as a team. AND, we have been winning games! But, then one day we wake up ready to play, and the game has changed. The pitch has turned to water. The goal posts are smaller. And instead of kicking the ball with our feet, we can only use our hands. We can either quit the game or adapt. Of course, we choose to adapt.

In the past, we had the opportunity to showcase Lao textiles and experiences at the LCC. Now, we have to do this digitally. So, we are organizing ourselves to bring you the Ock Pop Tok experience online. Some upcoming events; a weekly Radio Ock Pop Tok, online DIY experiences and storytelling videos. We’ll update you as we roll out new projects!

Our weavers and artisans, who have narrated theirs and OPT’s stories through textiles continue to do so. But, even their stories are changing. New stories, new items, finding ways to engage farmers and village-based artisans to return to craft, which still has the potential to provide—these are just some of the ways we are rising to meet the challenges ahead.

We are emerging from the panic, we have our purpose in focus and we are learning the new rules of the game.

ock pop tok laos portrait founder veomanee douangdala - Blessing
  • And now let’s hear from Veo.

Sabaidee. I first want to thank everybody for their messages of support and for supporting our team by buying from our online shop. Everyone has been affected by Covid, and the fact that people are willing to buy and support our work is very touching. Khop jai lai lai.

As a Lao, I tend not to be very emotive. I have been taught to find the blessing even in times of hardship and to keep moving forward. Covid has been difficult, but it’s also brought blessings. By far the biggest blessing is the ability to spend more time with my family. Steven, Alvee and I have started a small farm, with organic produce, herbs and mushrooms for the local market.

We’ve been blessed with a project with the government and a grant from an international foundation to support our Village Weavers Project (WVP). Without these, we would not have resources to employ our team, train artisans, and continue to develop new ways to integrate heritage skills in the economy.

It’s important to us to engage locally for many reasons, and I realize now that perhaps we did not dedicate enough resources to this.

Additionally, we are developing a patent that will protect ‘genuine Lao silk’. We are training weavers and creating local supply chains for cotton, silk, hemp and piet. We are introducing villagers to new spinning equipment that facilitate hand-spinning. These types of improvements are critical because they reduce the tedium of hand spinning, add value and earning potential. It’s an important consideration when trying to encourage and keep young people interested in textiles and craftsmanship as a livelihood.

Another blessing is to see our team step up and meet the challenge of having to re-adapt their work. Finally, we are seeing more local Lao showing an interest in our activities and classes. It’s important to us to engage locally for many reasons, and I realize now that perhaps we did not dedicate enough resources to this. We are changing this, and it is for the good! We are investing in the future of Lao youth, and that is perhaps the ultimate blessing.

When Jo and I first started out, one of our founding phrases was:

“Keeping it alive for the next generation.”

And, that is precisely what we are doing!

Khop jai lai lai,

Veo & Jo

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