By Somluck Srimalee
“If I had not joined Skills for Life … I might still be living in my village or be married, and not had the opportunity to learn how to do business and how to improve my life by studying at university,” Donnapa said in a recent interview with The Nation.
Skills for Life foundation was launched by Dominique Leutwiler when she went to Chiang Mai in Thailand’s North a decade ago.
Leutwiler says the idea behind the foundation is how to use the social space to build the work skills needed by teenagers – especially those living among the hill tribes in the North – so that they can do whatever they want when they graduate from primary school. From that idea, she launched the foundation in 2015 to share the knowledge and build the skills required for bake and produce coffee and craft products. The kicked off the first year with seven children and has seen the programme grow to 27 child members.
Bosch Thailand was attracted to the practical idea of supporting underprivileged hill-tribe youth as they built their vocational skills and increased their self-reliance in preparation for a career. Bosch was joined by the Fine Arts Faculty at Chiang Mai University, which saw in the practical programme a dynamic vocational development project able to help build a sustainable future for disadvantaged young people.
From running a bakery and coffee shop, the group went on to create crafts, Leutwiler said. In particular, they mastered the production of the “Botlight”, a chandelier made from discarded bottles. The students worked with the university’s Fine Arts faculty to design the botlight and its packaging.
“Botlight got positive feedback from the market, with the sale of up to 500 of them from last year till now,” said Leutwiler. “This has inspired them to redesign and develop other products, and this is a part of what we do to create jobs for the teenagers who join the foundation.”
Sumanatsya Voharn, a lecturer in the Design Division, Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University, has spearheaded the project.
“These young students managed to step out of their comfort zones to learn how to expertly use craftsman’s tools, especially the female students,” Sumanatsya said. “They are confident, imaginative and take pride in the fact that they are creating their own work.”
The Botlight has become an icon of the foundation’s success as it turned discarded bottles into stunning chandeliers. The hill-tribe youth and their partners created this practical – and well-designed lamp – and it has brought a sense of pride. The recycled bottles are collected from five-star hotels in Chiang Mai. Using their spare time after school, the teens divided up their tasks in separating, cleaning and drying the collected bottles, then installing electrical wiring and wood panelling, before finishing each product and preparing them for delivery.
The Botlight has received praise and compliments since being unveiled, and sales have helped increase the incomes of hill-tribe youth while reducing the foundation’s expenses, Sumanatsya says.
Nuttapong Udomwiriya, a young hill-tribe man who is studying science, said, “I have a soft spot for the jigsaw tool because I am passionate about wood carving. However, I need more practice to improve my carving skills. It requires a lot of patience. Another hard part is properly removing the labels and adhesives from wine bottles but I am learning all the time, which is important.”
Aem-on Nikhomkhiri, a hill-tribe student now studying organisational psychology, said, “The Botlight is my debut work. I am passionate about crafts, particularly traditional wood polishing and finishing techniques, which involve learning how to choose the right type of wood to support the wine bottle. I am glad that I eventually grew confident in mastering power tools and I cannot wait to produce and sell my own designs to raise money for my future.”