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The Salt Factory Women

Susan Stava | Myanmar

women dressed with faces covered in Tanacha pause between carrying the 50 pound baskets off of the barge

When I walked into a decaying salt factory on the waterfront in Myanmar, I entered into a modern tale of the enduring strength of women. After spending several days on site, I learned this group of women carried the tremendous weight of survival on their shoulders, physically carrying heavy salt baskets and working long hours to earn money to support their children. These women worked like a team"helping each other and figuring out a system to survive.

The work conditions in the salt factory were rough. The women's job was to fill and carry as many salt baskets off the barge and dump them into a holding room.  The women rotated out after 6 loads to rest the muscles in their neck. Each basket weighs 45 pounds.  Despite the heavy load these women carry- from the weight of their baskets to their working conditions to their financial distress- they used color and laughter in remarkable ways to bring light to their work and lives.  Their coping mechanisms of using bright colors in their baskets, their clothing and their headcovers.  

My focus on this photo series shifted over several days of visiting the factory, as I learned more about the financial challenges this work presented to the women.  I learned that the women earned one straw per basket which by the end of the day, amounted to approximately $5 US.  Many of the workers are stuck in a cycle of debt becasue of the seasonal availablity of jobs.  They ultimately have to take out loans- usually from the salt factory owner- who exploits them by systematically trapping the women in a debt cycle.

Many of the topics and projects I cover are generally about working women and the challenges they encounter- inspirational or informational.  This series of these optimistic and gracious women, their strength and beauty, deserves our attention. It is an observational perspective of the small but wonderful joys of these women, and their apporach to getting through their daily lives.

BEAM educational organization

Cambodia Cocoon

Terrewode Women's Hospital

Karakin foundation

Susan Stava 914.720.7839




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