Kommaly Chanthavong

Director of Phontong-Camacrafts Handicrafts Cooperative and Mulberries

Photography by Paul Wager

In 1976, Kommaly founded a cooperative for the production of silk, which she still heads. The cooperative teaches mostly women traditional skills in raising silkworms, making natural dyes and weaving traditional patterns. The successful marketing of the products provides a fair and steady income to several hundred families, supporting the socio-economic development of local communities.

Kommaly was 11 years old when her village was destroyed by US bombers attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail. She walked for a month to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, bringing with her silk weaving skills that her family has been engaged in for generations. Following this devastating experience, Kommaly met many desperately poor families displaced from rural areas without any marketable skills. In 1976, she founded a cooperative with 10 members; now there are more than 3,000. In a model farm which she manages with her equally dedicated husband, Kommaly offers courses on the production of high-quality textiles: from growing mulberry trees to raising silkworms, to spinning the ultra-fine threads, to preparing natural dyes and weaving traditional patterns.

In 2005, Kommaly was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize with 1000 Peace Women for her contribution to strengthening the position of women by giving them a dependable income and thus improving the lives of their children.