Since 2002, Mekong Quilts has provided sustainable quilting and handicraft work to needy women in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam and Cambodia. Many of them from broken families and often trying to turn around their lives, Mekong Quilts’ initiatives to train local women as quilters have evolved to become not just a source of income, but decades of uninterrupted passion for many nimble-handed craftswomen who have become deeply connected to the fabrics they sew.A look at the Mekong Delta through the lens of Mekong Quilts
A craftwoman working on Mekong Quilts’ face masks
Beyond providing income for them and their families, their children have been able to stay in school thanks to heightened income and the assistance from Mekong Quilts celebrated scholarship programme.Above all, Mekong Quilts was the result of founding director Bernard Kervyn’s wish to expand parent NPO Mekong Plus’ commitment to human development and alleviating poverty in the region.
Bamboo bicycle tours connect visitors to the Mekong Plus’ mission
About a decade ago, Mekong Quilts began an ambitious project that departed greatly from its line of handicraft-focused products such as bed quilts, water hyacinth bags and festive papier-mâché gifts.
“The BBC featured a California-based bicycle designer, Craig Calfee, successfully creating the world’s first bamboo bicycle,” Bernard recalled.“The team [at Mekong Quilts] wondered why we couldn’t do the same if bamboo grows so abundantly in Vietnam.”
One of Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycle
After many experiments and trials, Mekong Quilts launched its bamboo bicycle. As of 2022, Mekong Quilts’ line of bamboo bicycles now features everything from commuting bicycles to battery-powered fat bikes and child-centric models, along with a plethora of bamboo-made bicycle essentials such as bottle-holders and helmets.
Ultimately, this led to the creation of regular tours to the Mekong Delta region, where visitors pedal on Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycle through the lush scenery of southern Vietnam while visiting humanitarian projects along the way.
Ever-evolving projects that aim to enhance lives of locals
“Every tour is slightly different because Mekong Quilts and Mekong Plus are always developing new projects!” Bernard mentioned.
From Mekong Quilts’ all-new quilted jackets, to a new series of facemask designs based on bold, emotive brushstrokes inspired by the art of Vincent Van Gogh, or even Mekong Plus’ straw mushroom farming programme that aims to increase the income of households with little to no usable land, the teams’ ceaseless spirit of innovation is easily noticeable by both locals and visitors.
A beneficiary from Mekong Plus’ mushroom farming programme
Most notably, Mekong Plus has begun experimenting with locally-produced biochar stoves that use rice husks as cooking fuel. Rice husks that burns and is reduced to biochar can be used as a crop enhancer to improve harvest rates by improving soil structure while producing little to no carbon dioxide during the process.
“Each stove costs less than US$50, and does not pollute the environment,” Bernard added.
During a typical bamboo bicycle tour, paddy fields are a common sight—an ode to the cultural and commercial importance of agriculture in the region.
Thus, another noteworthy innovation in the areas of Mekong Plus’ activity includes the development of covered farms. Similar to greenhouses, covered farms provide crops with shielding from pestilence and heavy rains during the monsoon season between May to October annually.
A beneficiary showing us her beautiful veggies, grown in her covered farm
“Because of this, many leafy vegetable farmers see 100-200% increase in income since fewer crops get damaged [due to weather and pests], and because they are able to produce off-season,” Bernard noted.
Starting from March 2022, Mekong Plus will begin work in 4 additional communes of Vietnam’s Hậu Giang province, where at least 50,000 locals will benefit from various tried-and-test programmes and pilot initiatives.
Discovering more and making a difference
Coming a full circle, Mekong Quilts hopes that handicrafts, bicycles and ‘humanitarian’ cycling tours will help local Vietnamese and foreigners to understand the life in the Mekong Delta, and how people can support its development.
A craftwoman review the latest design with Mekong Quilts’ designer
Currently, Mekong Quilts’ bamboo bicycle tours are priced at an affordable VND3,400,000 and includes limousine van transportation from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta, lodging, food, bamboo bike rental and a VND1,300,000 contribution to Mekong Quilts’ scholarship fund that has helped more than 1900 students annually since 2002.
Bicycle tours in Ho Chi Minh City will resume after the Tết holidays on 20th February 2022.
Visit Mekong Quilts’ website to discover more innovative handicrafts and Mekong Plus to find out more about how you can help the cause and sponsor beneficiaries from different backgrounds.
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