Behind every lovingly made handcraft is a story of daughters and mothers – women who are creating a better future for themselves and their families. Their work for social enterprises and non-governmental organisations has demonstrated their courage in rising from the ashes.
On International Women’s Day 2023, glimpse through the lives of the fair hands behind the gifts created and curated by women for women.
#1: Frida King, Weaver At Helping Hands Penan
It was in 2012 that Frida King learned about Helping Hands Penan (HHP). When Frida and her mother came to Limbang to send her ailing father to the hospital, they witnessed women weaving rattan bags. Curious, she asked the women for whom the bags were made:
I asked them who they were making the bags for. They told me HHP was purchasing bags from them. From then on, my mother and I started to learn how to weave bags too. – Frida King
Soon, Frida took up the craft and remained one of HHP’s pioneering weavers. Today, at the age of 44, Frida is plaiting polypropylene into bags or expertly weaving strands of rattan to create stylish bags and baskets.
One of the ongoing plights of the Penan tribe is limited access to schools. Most schools are located far from their villages. It is a part of HHP’s mission to ensure that more Penan children are able to pursue an education. Frida’s two eldest children were sponsored by HHP and now hold undergraduate degrees and work in the field.
Frida shared that she was blessed that HHP is continuously helping the Penan younger generation and the community.
As part of the help we have received from HHP, we have also received school transportation fees as well. As well as monthly allowances, they provided laptops to those studying in tertiary education. – Frida King
Grateful for the blessings that have come her way, Frida is now giving back in the way of leadership. She is one of the community leaders that teach other women how to weave.
Helping Hands Penan grew from a collective of Penan women weavers to a social enterprise officially registered in 2016. In addition to empowering Penan women artisans with a sustainable income source, the organisation helps them design, create, and market their finished products. Additionally, proceeds from selling their crafts go towards various initiatives such as medical assistance, welfare aid, community development, and education.
Whether looking for handwoven bags for yourself or friends, Helping Hands Penan bags are the perfect accessories to your daily outfit for all occasions, get in touch with the selected HHP networks for a one-of-a-kind addition to your wardrobe.
#2: Muangi, Coordinator At Tanma
Muangi and her family fled from their war-torn country, Myanmar to settle in Malaysia 12 years ago. Despite living in a safer country, it has been challenging for Muangi and her family to rebuild their lives, a situation faced by 183,790 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Muangi, however, remained close to her community and was involved in the Mang Tha women’s refugee group, one of the five ethnic refugee groups in Malaysia hosted under the Tanma Federation. Slowly, her role expanded and today Muangi is the coordinator at the organisation’s centre.
Normally, I am looking for donations and new partnerships. I manage communication on social networks, handle the finances, organise different training and events, and open a new centre for all the groups. – Muangi
Under Muangi’s leadership, the Tanma Centre is flourishing with womenfolk from five different ethnic refugee groups banding together in working towards the same goal, producing their handicrafts for a better tomorrow.
Through her involvement in Tanma Federation, Muangi is connecting with different ethnic refugee groups while building bridges with the residents of the host country with their handicrafts.
The Tanma Federation was established in 2010 and is hosted by a local NGO Tenaganita, which aims to empower women refugees from Burma with income generation opportunities.
With delicate handiwork, you can choose from traditional cross-stitch pouches to hand-embroidered mirrors that would certainly brighten up your everyday look. Find out about their product offerings here.
#3: Rosnina, Temuan Artisan At The Asli Co.
Meet Rosnina, a mother of three from Kampung Orang Asli Serendah. The chances to work and earn a living are limited for OA women like Rosnina. When opportunities for employment and development come along, driven-women like Rosnina jump at it.
My sister Zulaika joined The Asli Co’s sewing workshop in 2020 and brought me to participate as well. – Rosnina
Since attending the workshop, Rosnina has become acquainted with the sewing machine. She now is one of the artisans pulling needle and thread creating the acclaimed products at The Asli Co. These products include the Lavender Eye Pillows, Tummy Pillows, Scrunchies, and Fabric Face Masks.
As a mother to young children under the age of 5, her work with The Asli Co has allowed her to attend to the needs of her family while earning a substantial income from the comfort of her home.
Mostly, I’m very glad I’m able to help with my family expenses by earning a good income. The flexible working arrangement is very beneficial, I have 3 young children below the age of 5. It’s important that I get that flexibility to attend to my family’s needs too. – Rosnina
Working with The Asli Co has also led Rosnina to come out of her shell and feel more confident in interacting with others outside of her village. Today, The Asli Co is empowering 63 Orang Asli women from 8 different villages in Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan & Pahang, Malaysia. Mothers like Rosnina earn four times the minimum hourly wage to ensure their families’ needs are met.
Whether you’re looking to purchase the crowd’s favourite lavender eye pillows or looking to deliver a care pack for your loved ones, The Asli Co. has it all. Browse through their collections here.
#4: Zahra, An Afghan Craft Maker At Fugeelah
Displaced from home at a young age, Zahra and her family arrived on the shores of Malaysia nine years ago. Since then, the family has worked to start anew. Now, 20 years old, Zahra first came across Fugeelah when she was looking to become a kindergarten teacher.
Through her friend, Zahra received the contact details of the founder of Fugeelah, Deborah Henry and since then things have started looking brighter for Zahra.
In addition to crafting the handmade jewellery at Fugeelah, Zahra is also an operations support. Her journey at Fugeelah saw Zahra learning how to craft jewellery and being admitted to an accepting community that was supportive of her.
The friendship between us was deep and strong. We have to overcome all the problems that we face together. – Zahra
Fugeelah is a women-led social enterprise offering conscious jewellery that educates, employs and empowers refugee youths. Currently, there are four refugee jewellers working at the enterprise enabling them one step closer to a better financial state.
Fugeelah’s fun, eye-catching and classy handcrafted jewellery is designed for the modern woman. Keep your eyes peeled on the next ‘X Collaboration’ collection for the latest and finest jewellery that will make any woman happy.
#5: Lan Jie, Crafter At Krayon Asia
Choo Joon Lan, fondly known as Lan Jie, had a fair share of difficulties in her life. She was stricken with severe polio syndrome at a young age and is also a cancer survivor. As a wheelchair-bound individual, Lan Jie’s employment opportunities became instantly limited – an ongoing concern for Persons With Disabilities (PWD) in Malaysia.
Despite the challenges life has thrown at her, Lan Jie taught herself to make beaded crafts in 2014 after joining Krayon Asia.
Today, Lan Jie is able to support her family and enjoy the success of her best-selling crafts. Lan Jie who overcame challenges and mishaps is nothing short of inspirational and is living proof of her motto: If you want to achieve something, be determined and try until you succeed.
Krayon Asia is a homegrown social enterprise that provides a platform for PWDs to showcase and market their creative work. Be sure that the crafts created by the fair hands of the makers hold a significant value or story.
If you’re looking for trinkets as a keepsake or eco-friendly lifestyle products, Krayon Asia is the place to browse on your next online shopping spree.
#6: Noor, A Seamstress At Batik Boutique
My dream as a mother must be to see my kids succeed. – Kak Noor 
Noor or Kak Noor as she is fondly known is a mother of seven children. At one point in her life, Kak Noor struggled to make ends meet. This mother wanted a better future for her family.
Her determination at the start of her involvement at Batik Boutique, travelling on a motorcycle with 3 or 4 children at night delivering pouches and scarves to the founder of Batik Boutique, Amy Blair became one of the catalysts of the formation of the social enterprise.
Kak Noor’s life has since been transformed. From being taught how to sew at Batik Boutique workshops, she is now leading others.
They did not have the basic skills so I taught them slowly. – Kak Noor
Years later, Kak Noor has only grown from strength to strength and now harbours a dream of owning her own shop.
God has given us our individual talents so we can use our talents to get out of poverty. – Kak Noor
Batik Boutique is an award-winning social enterprise that empowers artisans from marginalised communities. From start to finish, the apparel, home goods and accessories from the traditional Batik are providing employment opportunities and generating income for artisans across Malaysia. The social enterprise has worked with over 300 artisans and transformed the lives of more than 1,500 local beneficiaries.
There is no denying that there is a certain je ne sais quoi to each handcrafted batik clothes, accessories and home goods at Batik Boutique. Each piece is proudly created by local craftsmen and artisans from Malaysia’s marginalised communities.
#7: Aishatul Radhiah, Seamstress At INKAA
Aton or Aishatul Radhiah, 31 years old, from Wakaf Tapai, Terengganu was born deaf. Growing up on the East Coast of Malaysia, she learnt the difficult way to communicate with the surrounding community.
I have learned to communicate with sign language and also through writing. It can be difficult around here to talk to people as not many people know sign language. So we usually communicate by texting. – Aton
Aton, who sharpened her skills at a vocational school, knocked on the doors of INKAA in 2017, heeding the advice of her father. Coming from a large family with seven brothers and six sisters, it is her filial piety to support her elderly parents.
He is very old and I need to provide for him and my mother. – Aton 
Since then, Aton has worked with INKAA under a Community Rehabilitation Program for PWD; TAPAi. Under the guidance of her teachers, Aton is able to develop her sewing skills and actively make products such as bags.
I enjoy working at Tapai as the people here are very nice and respectful. I like sewing bags and helping with the design process. – Aton 
INKAA is a social enterprise that collaborates with grassroots organisations and artisans in Malaysia such as the batik crafts and mengkuang weavers in Terengganu. The organisation aims to bring the stories of more individuals such as Aton to the forefront, giving a glimpse of the lived realities of artisans in Malaysia.
The products at INKAA are interlaced with the thread of stories of hope and transformation of its artisans, hear their stories through the intricate mengkuang placemats or the batik pouches.