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Woman beats adversity to become skilled alms bowl maker

Bowls used for offering alms are traditional items and are closely linked to Lao customs and Buddhist ceremonies.
The bowls are used to contain offerings of sticky rice and snacks that are given to monks, and during wedding ceremonies.
The attractively designed bowls are made across the country from different materials and come in various shapes and sizes. Some people earn a livelihood by making these bowls.
Ms Buahieng Koumphonphakdy, 75, who lives in Viengsavanh village, Sikhotthabong district, Vientiane, chose to use her talents to make these bowls to support her family.

A variety of bowls used for offering alms made in Viengsavanh village.

She has become one of the best-known bowl makers in the country and her products are very popular. She now runs a successful silver, copper and brass handicraft business.
Ms Buahieng began making the bowls in the late 1980s because the business dealing in radios, watches and accessories, run jointly with her husband, was not generating enough income to meet the needs of her family. 
After the declaration of the Lao PDR in 1975, her family faced some difficulties because their business was not doing well due to a large fall in the number of customers.
“My husband and I carefully spent every kip we had because we made very little profit. Besides our own needs, we had to take care of our seven children,” said Ms Buahieng, who was born in Borikhamxay province and moved to Vientiane with her parents.
“In 1988, I discussed with my husband about trying a new line of work which could improve our standard of living and we found that making bowls was a good choice at the time,” she added.
While running her old shop in Vientiane’s Morning Market, she noticed that only a few jewellery shops sold the traditional bowls. “Their sales were quite good and this prompted me to learn about the businees,” she said.
Ms Buahieng continued selling radios and watches at her shop, barely getting by, while her husband learnt the art of making bowls with a relative in 1988.
During this training process, her husband used the family’s silver bowl, which was given by Ms Buahieng’s mother, to create a new one for sale.
“But because my husband lacked the proper skills, our first bowl did not sell for a high price,” she said.
After gaining enough skills by 1990, they started their own bowl business, and Ms Buahieng started learning all the techniques from her husband.
“At that time, all the bowls were made of silver because other materials like copper and brass were not popular,” she said.
“We could not make many bowls in one day because of the lack of labour. Also, we did not have enough money to buy silver as we had just started the business.”
But after the owners of shops dealing in bowls found out that their products were of good quality, some of them started bringing their own silver and hired Ms Buahieng and her husband to make the bowls. Ms Buahieng’s business slowly started getting bigger and bigger.
In 1996, Ms Buahieng’s husband passed away and she had to take on all the responsibilities of the family because her children were too young to work.
“I sometimes felt upset when there was too much work for a woman like me, but I fought and solved all the problems because I had seven children to take care of. The situation did not allow me to give up,” Ms Buahieng said.
As her children were growing up, they too learnt how to make the bowls and began helping out in the business.
In the past, the sale of bowls would drop during Buddhist Lent but now sales remain steady all year round.
Besides silver bowls, Ms Buahieng’s business makes trays, sticky rice baskets and bowls made of  copper and brass.
Her products were given the One District, One Product label in 2015, which is a testament to their quality.
The prices of her products depend on the material, size and design. Copper bowls with silver plating start from 250,000 kip per kg, while brass bowls start from 500,000 kip per kg and those with gold plating can cost up to one million kip.
The silver bowls start from about 33,000 baht (about 8.4 million kip) per kg, with the price varying according to the cost of silver.
Ms Buahieng sells her products from her home in Viengsavan village, Sikhottabong district, at Inpaeng Market in Thadeua village, Hadxaifong district, and at Nalien Market in Sikeuth village, Xaythany district, all in Vientiane.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update December 2 , 2017 )

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