THE FATIMA CENTRE of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Thailand is a non-profit organisation dedicated to developing the quality of life of all those in need. Under the expert direction of those whose sole concern is the welfare of others the Fatima Centre provides opportunities for women and young girls at risk in the community and to break out of the unending cycle of poverty. Their current programs include Education for Refugees, Preschool for children from the nearby Slum, a safe place for young Mothers and their babies and skills training in a variety of tasks.

The Fatima Centre started in 1922 when the sisters started selling crafts to support themselves. They saw a girl with a lovely bead bag and asked her if they could borrow it so they could pull it apart and see how it was made. The girl was reluctant to let go of her bag but the Sisters promised to return it to her in good condition. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to return it to her in the same condition……

They went to a Japanese market in full nun habit and tried to sell 4-5 bags. Although it was illegal to sell on the streets the police didn’t try to stop them because they thought they looked like ghosts in the habits. After spending all day there they finally sold 4 bags.

The Sisters then moved on to their next income-generating idea. Coming from Ireland the only craft they knew how to do was knit. Sister Louise had learned to knit on sticks as a girl growing up in Ireland. The sisters decided to knit booties to sell. They taught the girls to make booties. Each girl made one bootie at a time so there were no two booties that were alike. They were invited by the Ladies Mission Aid to have a stall so the Sisters took their oddly matched booties to sell. They spent an entire day there and did not sell one bootie. A teacher from the school told them to take a break and get something to eat and she would look after the stall. When they returned from their break all the booties had been sold. The teacher had asked people to donate money and then gave them a pair of booties in return.

The Sisters’ third project involved making patchwork quilts. Pieces of material would be brought into the Centre. Sometimes they would look good on one side but not on the other! American Soldiers visiting women in the district would buy the patchwork quilts. A Canadian lady visitor suggested making Thai Silk Quilts and they became quite successful sellers.

They currently have about 120 Women in the Self-Help Program. The women are free to come and go so the numbers vary each day but average between 90-100. They are payed a daily wage regardless of how much work they do, so they can cover their bills such as rent, electricity etc. to the housing authority.It takes about 6 months for the women to be fully trained and producing sellable items – in the meantime they are still paid.They make a new item at least 20 times before they get it right and start selling it. This expert training results in the production of high quality toys, quilts and clothing.