Helping the Hands that Weave with their Path towards Empowerment and Sustainability
Who are the Penans?
The Penan are semi-nomadic aboriginal people living predominantly in the Borneo rainforest in Malaysia. They are one of the last few nomads remaining in the world. The Penan are noted for their practice of 'Molong' which means never taking more than necessary. Most Penan were nomadic hunter-gatherers and have traditionally hunted for animals which they eat and use the hides, skin, fur, and other parts for clothing and shelter. They gather fruits and plants which are also used as medicines.
Penan communities were predominantly nomadic up until the 1950s. The period from 1950 till present has seen consistent programmes by the state government and foreign Christian missionaries to settle Penan into longhouse-based villages.
The Penan in Borneo are mainly Semi-nomadic and their way of life is changing due to pressures that encourage them to live in permanent settlements and adopt year-around farming. They are subsistence farmers, growing dry padi, tapioca and corn for consumption. Very often they still return to the forest to hunt and to the river to fish.
Urbanisation and other factors have triggered significant changes to the Penan's lives resulting in many migrating to towns in the hope of securing employment and education for their families. Many have found it difficult to adapt to these changes and women, in particular have been stuck in a poverty trap. Many children are unable to attend school due to lack of finances or if they go, they drop out.
Helping Hands Penan is a charity that exists to cater to the short term basic needs of the Penan and also to empower them to be self-sufficient long term.
How do they do this? The answer is in the name...the NGO helps the Penan women by helping the hands that weave; weaving being a tradition deeply ingrained in the Penan culture, passed down from generation to generation. Strips of coloured material are weaved into beautiful bags, each telling a different story. Helping Hands is bringing these colourful creations from the jungle to the rest of the world and we're thrilled to be spreading the word too.
The fruits of the Weavers' labour are channelled into the funding for essentials and longer term projects such as solar lighting for the settlements without power generators. Funds are also used to finance transportation costs from the settlements in the jungle to urban schools and to provide supplies and allowances to the Penan students so they stay in higher education.
To learn more about Helping Hands check out their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/HHPenan\