The queen's tireless travel to every corner of Thailand has provided her with a keen understanding of the problems of the rural population. It has enabled her to appreciate the under-utilised skills many people process - skills that could be used to help alleviate rural poverty. Farmers are often victims to the whims of nature. Floods, fires, drought and crop infestation are common. Their sometimes dire circumstances need to be tackled in a way that will not only increase their income but preserve many aspects of Thai culture. The queen has discovered people gifted in trades and crafts handed down from generation to generation. But, because of the demands of farming life, this rich part of Thai heritage has been in danger of being lost. She has witnessed the fine and intricate embroidery and weaving associated with the north; matmi or silk weaving in the northeast; doll and rattanware-making in the central region; and yan lipao, basketry woven of a strong indigenous vine, in the south. She quickly realised the value of promoting these products in local and world markets. Through her energy, effort and funding, she began to promote Thai handicrafts as a way of providing additional income to farmers and other rural people while at the same time preserving an important part of Thai culture. Villagers would no longer need to migrate to urban areas to look for work and low-income farmers could keep their land. Farmers and villagers could work from home, using local raw materials that were easily obtainable. The queen despaired at the thought of losing many aspects of crafts intrinsic to Thai culture. She wanted not only to preserve these handicrafts but to help them regain their popularity. The weaving of ancient mundee silk designs and silk Prae-wa, Yan-Lipao basketry, and silver and gold nielloware required a great deal of skill, time and patience, and it was difficult to find people interested in learning such crafts. In July 1976, the queen founded, and agreed to become president of, the SUPPORT Foundation. Over the years, this has helped save many of Thailand's beautiful handicrafts, helped ease rural poverty and given the sons and daughters of the rural poor a more meaningful life. A few years after the foundation's establishment, the queen began a training centre at Bangkok's Chitralada Palace where children of landless farmers could be taught the crafts. For trainees in rural areas, temporary training centres are set up each time the king and queen stay at royal residences throughout the country. The queen takes a personal role in the programme, interviewing poor families and selecting children to be trained at the centre in the palace. She also selects skilled craftsmen to pass on their knowledge to trainees. Students receive lodging, meals and a daily allowance. 'When I formed the SUPPORT Foundation, the primary objective was to set up co- operatives that would be a vehicle for rural Thais to supplement their incomes,' the queen said. 'The foundation provides rural people with tools, equipment, materials and training to better their indigenous cottage industries.' The queen is a regular visitor to the Chitralada Palace centre. She inspects the work, chats with the students and teachers and lends them encouragement and support. On completion of their training courses and with their skills honed, they return to their villages and farms to continue their work. The foundation buys and markets their finished products, and the profits from sales are turned over as working capital to stimulate further development of the project. More than 50,000 rural workers and people from hilltribes have so far graduated from the programme. There are now about 26 different handicrafts taught at Chitralada Palace. The queen, meanwhile, uses and wears crafts produced at the centre to promote Thai culture and, in this way, has set many fashion trends. Wearing traditional jewellery and garments made from Thai cloth at social functions has become de rigueur for many middle and upper class Thai women. The queen also promotes these fashions on trips overseas and supports fashion and craft shows.