At what she assumed would be the end of an emotionally arduous career, Dinny moved to her husband’s small village of Batutumonga nestled in the mountainous regency of Toraja, South Sulawesi. This region is also home to the Torajan ethnic group, known for their elaborate funeral rituals, unique religion, and colorful wood carvings. But once Dinny settled into this picturesque village, she noticed something odd: that many Torajan women returned home from their “work” abroad pregnant, only to give birth and leave again. Dinny started investigating and found out that a lack of economic opportunities in the area led to women seeking work in neighboring countries of Malaysia, Kalimantan, and West Papua.
However, many women could not afford to migrate legally and often fell prey to traffickers, abuse, and exploitative labor practices. Dinny also discovered the women were left with meager compensation after paying exorbitant fees to illegal traffickers. Not to mention the women who never returned: the reported death toll of female migrants was more than 2,500 in 2018, according to TORAJAMELO.
These injustices called Dinny back from her retirement and into action to provide alternative forms of employment for women in Toraja. The Torajan people, like hundreds of other ethnic groups in Indonesia, have a rich textile and artisan tradition dating back hundreds of years. In these traditions, Dinny saw a solution: employ women to weave and sell traditional Torajan textiles so they would not need to risk the dangers of working as laborers in other countries.
Thus, Dinny began TORAJAMELO, meaning “beautiful Toraja” in 2008 to curb outward, exploitative migration patterns by providing women with an alternative, local livelihood source: weaving. TORAJAMELO now works across 10 communities in Eastern Indonesia, training women how to weave and earn an income from their community’s traditional craft. Dinny and her team also provide capacity–building programs to further develop the women’s skills, boost cost-effective strategies, and market their products successfully. Not only has local pride in Torajan artistry and handicrafts been revived, but now thousands of women have the support and tools they need to earn a dignified living and even become the breadwinners for their families.