More Than A Basket
Isabelle is the definition of a multi-hyphenate: a person who cannot summarize what they do in one word because they do so many things. By day, she is an active parent in our ASH community and lends collaborative and supportive hands in many school events and activities - alongside being a caring and conscientious parent of two of our eager young learners. By profession, she is a French teacher, who worked at an international school in Miri, Malaysia before arriving at ASH. It was in this setting where the inspiration for her passion project came to light; a project that enables, inspires, and embodies the spirit of humanity that makes our world a better place: the Penan Bag project.
Named after the Penan people, one of the last aboriginal tribes in Malaysian Borneo, this grassroots project idea was born in 2014, as Isabelle witnessed the destructive effect of rapid deforestation on their forest livelihoods, resulting in their displacement to urban centers where they live in poverty with little to no access to education. Isabelle explains that the Penan Bag project saw the light to help 30 Penan families “find a way to become self-sustaining in a rapidly changing world.” She reflects:
“The project started by providing the women of the local longhouse training on how to weave baskets using readily available packaging material. The natural handicraft skills of these people combined with original Penan tribal designs have resulted in the development of a wide range of beautiful baskets that have proven extremely popular both in Malaysia and beyond. The money from the sale of baskets has radically transformed both the living conditions of these people and their access to schooling. I am very proud to say that as a result of this initiative 60 children are now going to school, and hopefully onto further study. For every 300 euros of bags sold, a new child can go to school helping to break the cycle of limited opportunity and poverty. It has been a tremendous adventure for me, and I am very happy to be very involved in such an exciting and rewarding project.”
It is clear that this is much more than just a basket; the basket has turned into a beautiful symbol reflecting this wonderful story of kindness and empowerment on behalf of so many who are willing to make a difference and help give a brighter future to marginalized families. Isabelle has done something with her passion project that so many aspire to achieve - to share and inspire others, and infuse every waking moment with a sense of purpose and meaning to help make the world a better place. It is safe to say that each Penan basket holds a small piece of this inspirational passion project, woven into its very fabric and structure.
Penan bags are high-quality baskets decorated using indigenous Penan patterns. The weavers receive a fair-trade salary funded from the sales profits, which also help support their children’s education. To learn more about the Penan Bag Project, visit the website here.