From North Bend to Thailand: 'I never even actually went camping when I was little'

NORTH BEND, Ore. - Growing up on the South Coast, Else Conrad thought she'd become a choir teacher.

Her life took an unexpected turn.

Now she lives in a bamboo hut on the border of Burma and Thailand, helping a persecuted minority group called the Karen.

"So this is actually the exact opposite of anything I ever planned for," she said during a visit home. "I never even actually went camping when I was little."

She moved to the Maw Kwee village last year to head the Damola Project.

It helps Karen women use their traditional weaving skills to make a living.

"We just give them an assignment and say the colors, and every design you see is from their own heads," Conrad said. "So it's a very old skill. They measure out the centimeter with pieces of bamboo they pull from the wall in my house."

The products are sold in Norway, and Conrad has created a website to bring sales to the U.S.

"Also we try to teach hand washing and using soap and using toilets, because that's something that is not very important to them," she said.