PORT CLYDE — On a little table in the entryway of Barbara Ernst Prey’s gallery just at the edge of Port Clyde, an array of colorful hand-stitched pouches and clutches are laid out for sale. It’s easy to miss them when walking in, as the eye is drawn to rich color in Prey’s watercolor paintings positioned all over the gallery.
Prey’s 25-year-old daughter, Emily, is the impetus behind these small decorative bags. She didn’t make them; she imported them from Thailand for a specific cause to help women and children escape poverty, encourage financial independence, and more importantly, prevent human trafficking.
"All of the money will go to families living in poverty in northern Thailand," said Emily.
Emily spent the last two years living and working in Chiang Khong, a province in northern Thailand for the grassroots nonprofit Center For Girls. She is back home in Maine again for the summer. And what she experienced there could not let her leave without finding some way to help the marginalized ethnic minority groups, migrants, and refugees who live there.
As always, girls and women are the most vulnerable. Over there, Emily learned of a young girl, “Jun,” now, 13, who gave birth to a baby last year and won’t speak about what happened. The girl was forced to drop out of school as her family continues to struggle to find money to support her and her child. Then there’s “Bell,” an 18-year-old whose parents both died of HIV/AIDS when she was two. Bell now lives with her grandparents and husband and child and in their case, they barely have enough money to buy plain white rice to feed a family of five.
“There are so many stories like these,” she said. “You can read an article in the paper, or read a flyer, but it doesn’t have the same impact. I didn’t go there to ‘rescue’ people, but I want people in the states to know how incredible and resilient Thai people are. They can do anything. The only thing in their way is they often don’t have access to the financial resources they need to help them get an education or hone their skills, which is the pathway out of poverty.”
Emily was only able to bring back about 20 or so of the colorful bags in a suitcase. The sale of these pouches and clutches all benefit what Center For Girls terms their “Emergency Cases.”
For example the sale of a $45 clutch equates to nearly 1,500 Thai baht, enough money to feed a family for several weeks or send a child to school for a month.
“I want people to be able to hold something in their hands that is a tangible connection to these families, so it makes them think of the women and girls who directly benefit from purchasing an item,” said Emily.
The small ornate bags are like little hand-knit passports to Thai culture.They are symbolic works of art based on hill tribe patterns from three ethnic minority groups in Thailand. For example, one of the distinct patterns in a blue clutch was made by the Akha people, who believe in animism – the presence of good and bad spirits in non-human entities (such as animals, plants etc).
Emily’s mother, Barbara, has always made her gallery a place for community giving back in some form or another. For the last 17 years, Barbara Prey Projects has supported humanitarian projects locally, nationally and internationally.
For more information on the “Emergency Cases” that Emily Prey has been working on to resolve, even back here in Maine, visit: Center For Girls.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org