In Laos, a 'Beautiful Side of Globalization'

In the northern Lao village of Pakor, where 100 people live along a few hundred feet of land near the river, where the only shop sells shampoo and sticky rice behind the village elder's hut, 20-year-old Silay does something that nobody else in the world can do.

Every day, she cuts the vines off the trees, and she twists and ties and rolls them with her knife and her fingers, creating bags and fishing nets for the rest of the village.

This week, a version of Silay's bag will be showcased in meetings in midtown Manhattan by American Carol Cassidy, who has spent her adult life combining indigenous Asian talent with her own designs. In so doing, she has created industries in India, Cambodia and Laos that sell exquisite local textile traditions to customers from Hong Kong to Rome to New York.

"I build on indigenous culture and skill to create an international product of a high standard," she told ABC News recently in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, where she has lived for the past 19 years. "The goal is to enable these rural producers to benefit. We're the beautiful side of globalization."

The women of Pakor have been creating the bags and the nets for as long as anyone can remember, and they've been doing it because they have to. The village is populated entirely by subsistence farmers, members of the minority khummu tribe who make less than the equivalent of $1 a day.

The vine, they say, can last 100 years. They call it "khua piad," or jungle vine, and it's strong enough to catch the food that the people need to eat, strong enough to carry the tools they use to farm and to survive.

"This jungle vine grows in a particular location, it's processed by a people with a tradition, and all their essentials are made out of this," Cassidy said after visiting Pakor. "We don't leave any footprint on the earth when we create these bags. There's no downside. It's something that celebrates nature, the environment, skill, craft and tradition — and does it beautifully."

Cassidy has no intention to mass market the bag — at least not yet — but she does want to give the villagers of Pakor a way to profit from a skill that is as rare as their bags are sturdy.

"It's a cool bag. It's hip, it's something you want to take to the supermarket," she said in earnest. "My goal is to keep as many people as possible in their own village, to give rural people access to globalization."

Ibiza. 55-year-old Chanthorn Sithornkeochampa working at Lao Textiles in Vientiane. "If I didn't work with Carol, I would be at home," she says. Sithornkeochampa has worked for Cassidy in Vientiane for 16 years, specializing in the tie-dying of silk. "I'm really proud of Carol because she's a foreigner who came to Lao and helped improve Lao's own tradition. And she's given us all jobs."

Finding Alternatives to Stop Opium Production

One day late last year representatives from the United Nations offices who work on drugs and industrial development walked into the village, part of a three-year project to rehabilitate farmers in northern Laos who usually survive by growing opium.

In 1998, Laos produced 27,000 hectares of opium, more than any country outside Afghanistan and Myanmar, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Half of their product was consumed by locals, making the country one of the most addicted on the planet.

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