Meet Emi Weir, one of our inspiring ABV Skilled Volunteers who has donated her expertise for over a decade. Emi's nomadic spirit has led her to new opportunities around the globe—starting in her early twenties, she moved to New York, where she sold tour packages for Aus Travel. Although challenging, she found solo travelling a fulfilling experience; she says, "I went to New York without any plan, but I think my Australian accent and confidence secured me the job, and I loved it." Over her career, Emi appreciated flexibility to follow her own path, "When I asked to for time off to go backpacking, they said yes, and when I came back, and I was promoted to set up the national operation."
In 2014, in search of a new challenge, Emi travelled to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. Vientiane is known for its relaxed vibe and Buddhist temples along tree-lined boulevards on the banks of the Mekong River. Shortly after her arrival, Emi was asked to support the business operations of the Laos Disabled Women's (LDW) Centre through Australian Business Volunteers (ABV).
In groups of 30, women with disabilities would join the LDW Centre for nine months, building confidence and life skills. A lot of the women were victims of the Polio virus, which, if not treated properly, can result in paralysis. "These women faced great challenges—many were denied schooling and weren't accepted in their villages. They came to the Centre and saw girls who were like them and who were happy to be like them. Seeing their transformation was a deeply moving experience."
The women were employed to craft items from recycled paper, like earrings and bracelets, to be sold in the Centre's shop. With Emi's background in tourism, she realised the promising prospects of the Centre being near the famous 'Friendship Bridge' that connects to Thailand. Emi established partnerships with tour companies to incorporate the Centre into their itineraries, bringing in busloads of visitors. Over the next decade, the Centre evolved from a small initiative into a thriving enterprise and, to this day, operates, now offering tours and paper crafting workshops.
Above: Paper crafting at the LDW Centre, Emi Holding Earrings 2014.
In 2016, Emi relocated to Savannakhet—a province in southern Laos. She started another ABV assignment to write a business plan for Sengsavang, a versatile establishment housing a restaurant, tailoring service, and hairdressing facility. "Local factory workers would take their lunch there and then have their hair washed, which was a popular service, and during wedding season, they'd teach the local girls how to sew." Emi later employed Sengsavang tailors to produce Ikats (a dyed textile) for her business, Ma Té Sai. Emi's business is a social enterprise that proudly follows a "from the village for the village" ethos, co-creating items with village artisans.
Emi pivoted to virtual volunteering in the last few years, and her latest ABV assignment was helping disaster resilience in Southeast NSW by writing a strategic marketing plan for a First Nations organisation and assisting Aruluen Hall with event marketing.
Emi's diverse skill set has been invaluable to ABV over the past decade, and we're profoundly grateful for her expertise. Reflecting on her years with ABV, Emi said, "I love the diversity of what ABV offers; I identify with its spirit of resourcefulness."
LDWD Centre Group photo.
Paper products from LDWD Centre being sold in Singapore.
Do you have the business skills to give back and change lives? Express interest in volunteering with us.