While teaching on the island of Borneo I witnessed first-hand the shocking health and mistreatment of the semi-nomadic Penan tribe in Sarawak and became determined to do something to help. Destruction of the rainforest and subsequent planting of palm oil by large corporations and government entities have left them impoverished, starving, homeless and vulnerable.
After trekking into the interior in 2003 I devised a plan where they would bring their woven items and tradable goods to sell to me while awaiting treatment at the hospital in a temporary shelter. I taught them dental hygiene, good nutrition, and sanitation, supplied clean flooring, gas cookers, bedding etc. With the help of others, I worked on designs, materials, and colour combinations of their woven craft to suit the western market. We managed to sell their products at the huge international school where I worked, established a charity there and parents and other teachers soon volunteered their help.
A fully registered charity in Kuching was established, The Penan Women Project, and for over a decade we've marketed their goods, constantly working on new designs and quality control. On returning to New Zealand in 2015 I established the social enterprise, Borneo Bags all profits being returned directly to the weavers and the charity.
A Better World Bag. A Bag for Life. Buying a handwoven Borneo Bag you are directly helping to empower the tribes from this region. With 100% of profits going to education, food, family, healthcare, child protection and more.