Centre works to revive traditional culture and reduce poverty in minority groups

Sunday, 2016-11-06 15:04:03
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A Craft Link expert teaches ethnic women how to calculate the prices of products. (Photo: Craft Link)
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NDO –The Centre for Handicraft Research, Linkage and Development, also known as Craft Link, was established in 1996 as a non-profit organization and is committed to reviving the indigenous culture of ethnic minority groups, traditional craft villages, and groups of people with disabilities.

The establishment of Craft Link was initiated by Tran Tuyet Lan and seven other Vietnamese youngsters, who held that economic development has benefited many people but also left many others behind.

They believe that the production and marketing of traditional handicraft products is an effective way to increase income for ethnic minority groups and people living in difficult circumstances. Motivated by their views, they launched projects to develop skills and create new designs, as well as help to run production for the products and assemble people for production.

Craft Link was established to support and organise necessary skills and information for the targeted groups so that they could create high-quality and marketable products which meets the constantly changing demands of consumers.

During the last years of the 1990s, handicraft products made by ethnic groups were threatened by the flow of cheap Chinese goods. Therefore, the problem facing Craft Link staff was how to help the traditional products survive from the competition and continue helping local people rise above poverty.

However, convincing minority groups needed practical actions rather than only words. In 1998, Lan and her colleagues visited Mong people in the remote hamlet of Sin Chai, Den Thang commune, Bat Xat district, Lao Cai province. They were stunned by the local people’s unique weaving techniques, which faced the risk of being lost.

Mong people’s costumes in Bat Xat district are different from Mong groups in other localities thanks to their more complicated techniques and spiral-shaped embroidered patterns used in the making of the garments as well as the more colourful shades standing out on the traditional black background.

Aware of the risk, Craft Link co-operated with Ucodep to launch a project supporting local women to revive the craft of embroidery. Under the project, for the first time, the women were taught how to create designs, market their products, price as well as sell the products themselves.

Their finished products have been then showcased in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and advertised abroad. Thanks to the project, looms, which were once forgotten at the corner of the house, have once again been employed, and the locals’ livelihoods have been improved significantly.

Lan has been to many other remote areas of the ethnic groups, including Sang Pa A hamlet, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province, where Lo Lo people live on rugged plateau. The area accounts for the highest poverty rate in the country, but women’s traditional costumes there are regarded as the most beautiful and sophisticated clothes of ethnic minority groups in Vietnam’s mountainous region.

Lo Lo girls learn how to embroider their dresses at the age of five or six, and they continue to embroider their costumes until they are too old to do it any more. They wear embroidered blouses with decorations focused on the sleeve area. They also wrap a fully decorated piece of cloth around their hips and wear two or three embroidered belts. Their heads are covered with a decorative scarf attached by many small cotton pompoms. Such a set of clothes often takes them at least one year to complete.

Since early 2011, Craft Link has co-ordinated with the Ha Giang Women’s Union to carry out the project ‘Conserve and preserve traditional culture and raise income for the Lo Lo people in Meo Vac’. Lo Lo people there were surprised and touched by the project team, who lived and worked together with them in order to share their experiences on tailoring, marketing, and financial management. Sang Pa A women are thrilled to earn money from their traditional craft, which never happened in the past.

They have attached so much sentiment to the project team that when the project was about to conclude, an elder held Lan’s hands and said to her sincerely, “stay here and be my daughter-in-law.”

For more than 15 years, Craft Link members have been to many remote villages to open training courses for locals. They went to Pa Co commune, Mai Chau district, Hoa Binh province to help the Mong people revive their dyeing technique on scarfs and wax decoration on fabric. They went to Ta Pin village, Sapa distict in Lao Cai province and helped to enhance hand embroidery patterns made by locals. They went to Nam Can commune, Ky Son district in Nghe An to help restore the weaving and dyeing techniques of the Thai people.

Every year, Craft Link organises traditional handicraft fairs in Hanoi to provide an opportunity for people from the mountainous areas to introduce their products and make exchanges with buyers to seek more markets.

So far, Craft Link has successfully implemented 37 projects in numerous provinces throughout the country, supporting 70 artisan groups benefitting 6,000 people, most of whom are women from ethnic groups, such as the Mong, Dao, Thai, Ta Oi, Cham, Lo Lo, Nung and Khmer. The projects not only help them to restore their cultural crafts but also improve their income through Craft Link’s marketing and distribution channel. Their products, which were previously only sold in local markets in their living areas, now reach the global market with 79% of finished products exported mostly to Europe, Africa and Australia.

According to Lan, there are three things that make Craft Link different from other non-profit organisations. First, they are committed to working for those who are really in need. Second, profit gained from the business does not fall into the personal pocket of any individual but is used to support new projects. Third, Craft Link has attracted many people who are willing to share their time and effort to work together to turn prospects into reality.

The “prospects” Lan and her colleague are working for are to see traditional crafts restored and developed, while ethnic groups and artisans gain proper income from working. By doing so, the staff of Craft Link have not only provided ethnic groups and people with difficulties a fish but also taught them how to fish.

A Craft Link staff member helping ethnic women to enhance their sewing and tailoring skills (Photo: Craft Link)

Products made by Craft Link-supported groups of ethnic women on display at a craft fair in Hanoi

Ethnic women in Ha Giang Province see their designs on a computer for the first time. (Photo: Craft Link)

General Manager of Craft Link Tran Tuyet Lan (centre) at an event advertising Craft Link’s products abroad.