One of the favorite ongoing Creative Empowerment Projects at Wat Opot is making Bamboo Bracelets. It does not require a certain age or even specific skill set. All the children can get involved in one aspect or another and there are many steps to accomplish before the finished project can be displayed in Winnie’s Boutique or Rajana (in Phnom Penh); and subsequently, sold.
The first step is to sand the strips of previously cut bamboo. This is probably the easiest part and it doesn’t take long for the strips to be smooth and ready for cutting.
Cutting is next and is one of the favorite things for the kids to do…unfortunately it takes a steady hand and concentration; something not everyone possesses. If the pieces are cut quickly or carelessly, they come out irregular and it takes some hard sanding to get them evened out. The good thing is that cutting is difficult and the saw can get stuck, so most kids try it and easily walk away leaving the remainder to be cut by a more determined craftsman. Mr S. is not the best cutter, but by far one of the most determined and as lazy as he is most of the time, something about cutting piece by piece resonates with him.
Miss SP was a surprise candidate and spent days with saw in hand as she patiently cut one after another.
Once the pieces were cut into 6 or 7 square sets, depending on the size of the bamboo, they were put into small plastic bags to keep comparable pieces together.
Then came the part everyone strangely enough likes! The individual sanding of each piece. This is a tedious process, and involves taking the pieces out of the bag and sanding one at a time. Each side must be smooth, corners somewhat rounded and the top smooth. Personalities really shine in this process. We have the dedicated sander who is intent on getting each piece as smooth as possible to the sander who quickly slides each piece across the sandpaper and confirms that he/she is finished.
The last time we made the bracelets, when it came time to paint, we realized many of the pieces had not been sanded well and those who were ‘good sanders’ were stuck re-sanding before they could paint. This time, we rectified that situation and when the sander was finished they were allowed to put their name on the plastic bag so they could paint the pieces they sanded. This worked wonders and the lazy sanders were given their bag back time and again until the sides were smooth.
Since the finished product will be worn on the wrist, the kids would rub the piece on their arm to see if it was smooth; we don’t want the bracelet to scratch anyone wearing them. This helped in the sanding process as well, especially after they scratched themselves with a rough edge a few time.
The sanding is a dusty process so most of the work was moved outside.
You can see the cuts in the pieces from the sawing process. If the bamboo strip and saw aren’t held firmly, the saw can ‘jump’ around marring the piece and then it takes more work to try to get those marks out. Also if the tops are not sanded smooth, the paint will peel off the finished product.
Each piece must then be marked for drilling.
Then comes the FUN part – personalizing the pieces!
Personalities again shine in this step. Some of the bamboo pieces are painted quickly by those whose cannot quite sit still for very long and then there are those who hours later are still not quite finished. Mr SC is probably one of our strongest perfectionists. He has so much trouble just starting a project and many times quits mid-project because he just can’t get the finished product to match what is in his head. In the below photo, you see him looking at Miss SP’s pieces as he was frustrated with what he was painting. He was finally moved to a table by himself where he grudgingly continued painting and then with a few pointers something clicked and he was able to be proud of his work.
Sometimes their painting paper is as much a work of art as the bamboo.
Keeping the pieces organized during the multi-step process can be frustrating with so many hands involved in the process, but we do the best we can.
Everyone is hard at work.
After the pieces are painted and dried a coat of varnish is added to enhance the colors as well as protect the paint from chipping off.
Then the finished pieces are finally strung together!
Beads are added to the ends and Miss R. demonstrates how it’s done.
And finally, the finished projects are tagged and ready to be put into Winnie Boutique awaiting their new home!