Jennifer Lowe is a Karen woman from Burma. She has been working closely with the Canberra-based Karen community, making clothes and bags using traditional fabrics. She has also been helping Karen women get around language barriers so that they can find work, especially those who have recently arrived. This means that these women can earn a wage, start to be financially independent and support their families.
"I was born in an area along the Thai-Burma border and became a refugee in 1984, living and growing up in a refugee camp. This camp provides a home to thousands and thousands of refugees who have fled violence in Burma.
“I migrated to Australia in 1999, which was the same year I met my husband in Thailand and my first child – a daughter – was born. My husband is from Australia so I came to Australia with him from Thailand when our daughter was just one month old.
“At that time, there weren’t many refugees coming to Australia and not a very big Karen community. There weren’t opportunities for people in camps in Thailand to apply and they didn’t know how to apply to come to Australia. If people wanted to be recognised as a refugee and migrate to another country, they had to travel to Bangkok to do this as no assessments were being done in the camps. Many people did make the journey to Bangkok, but it was very dangerous as most people had to walk there and hide so they wouldn’t be caught. They would also have to pay people a lot of money. At the time, the UN weren’t going into the camps, only non-governments organisations.
“Weaving traditional materials is something I want to learn more about, as it was something I didn’t do when I was younger. I can now make the clothes with the traditional fabrics, which supports women weaving the materials and also keeps that tradition of weaving going and hopefully encourages some younger Karen women to learn this. It is important to not just help each other as Karen women, but also keep our culture alive.”