Growing Through a Simple Vision of Change
Learn all about our founder Monica Phromsavanh - her journey from heartbreak to healing and how it led to Equal Hands.
In the late 70’s, the secret war in Laos displaced many families and killed so many others. Families were torn apart and displaced through the war, including mine. We sought asylum in Argentina, which is where I grew up in a refugee camp. Abandoned by my mother at the age of 6, my father was left to raise me. He was overwhelmed by the magnitude of our plight and barely present in a poverty-stricken environment.
In these challenging circumstances, I had to find ways to fend for myself. During the night, I would wander around our camp, offering to do chores and dishes to get a meal from our neighbors; those were the nights I would relish because I got to eat. Other nights, I wasn’t as lucky.
To survive, I spent my afternoons on the streets selling souvenirs hand-made by artisans in my community. I worked hard to make a living and feed myself. I grew up in challenging conditions, but I never lost hope for better days and never stopped dreaming of a better life.
I dropped out of school and at 15, I made my way to Buenos Aires. The random twists and turns in my life got me to New York City, where I found work in the fashion industry. Some may call this ‘luck’ or ‘fate.’ I saw it as an opportunity to pull myself up.
Fast forward to 2018; I traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos for the first time since I left to reconnect with my roots. I was able to immerse myself in my parent’s culture, learn more about the land that I came from, and better understand my people.
A simple purchase can have a transformative impact on others.
While on the trip, I visited a monastery that was nestled in a remote area on a mountain. As I climbed up ancient steps, making my way to the monastery, a group of young children ran up to me. These little children were selling local bracelets, just as I had once done. I pulled out my last bit of cash and bought a bracelet. These children insisted I buy another, but I didn’t have anything left to give them. They continued to plea. “Please help me. I need to eat tonight.” “I have walked a great distance to get here, and I’m really hungry.” These words made my heart sink. I was speechless, angry, and overwhelmed with strong emotions. I had never felt so powerless in my life. I saw my reflection in these children’s eyes. I realized that although I had escaped poverty, those feelings of hopelessness from my childhood still lay within me. I was drawn back to my past as if it was just yesterday. Since that day, I vowed to have a positive impact on those going through life in extreme poverty. I want to provide them with opportunities and hope so they no longer have to feel defeated in life. No one should suffer through life like this. Our purchase decisions can change people’s lives for the better.
While the doll was a mere souvenir for the buyer, for me it represented much more. It meant a meal for the day and a possible sign of hope for a better tomorrow.
One of the original handmade dolls crafted by my local community in Northern Argentina from over 30 years ago.