Changing the fabric of H’mong lives

17:14 | 15/02/2018 Culture & Art

(VEN) - A two-year project to preserve the traditional culture of the H’mong minority in northern Vietnam as a way to improve their livelihood was funded and implemented by Craft Link at a total cost of more than VND643 million.

changing the fabric of hmong lives

Livelihood improvement

Though life is peaceful for the White H’mong and Flower H’mong minorities living in Na Kieng and Tong Chao villages in Cao Bang Province, they face many difficulties. Lam Thuy Kieu from the Bao Lam District Women’s Union says H’mong women are hardworking and skillful. They can embroider and make costumes for their family members. In recent years, however, this cultural uniqueness has faced extinction due to the popularity of cheap, ready-made clothing in the local upland markets. The Craft Link-funded project not only helped villagers restore their traditional occupation of brocade production but also enabled them to make a living from doing what they love, Kieu said.

Living in rural hilly and mountainous areas, the hill tribes have little access to markets. Craft Link, a non-profit organization, works to assist small Vietnamese craft producers find market opportunities and to promote awareness of ethnic minority crafts and culture.

Craft Link views cultural restoration as an effective solution to livelihood improvement. Craft Link Director, Tran Tuyet Lan, said that after survey and assessment of villagers’ demand, Craft Link worked with women’s unions of Bao Lam Women District and Quang Lam Commune to prepare specific plans and set up a management unit of villagers.

Craft Link provided eight training sessions for almost 60 Na Kieng and Tong Chao female villagers. Apart from teaching them to work with product colors, embroidery tools, fabrics, threads, material preservation methods and material management, the project trained them in making such arts and crafts products as coin wallets, napkins, hairpins, and earrings, among others.

From September 2015 to October 2017, project participants made 11,832 products of different kinds, earning revenues of more than VND115 million, with each participant earning an average income of VND1-2 million per month. In particular, the project connected the women workers with souvenir, fine art and handicraft stores in major cities and airports to help them find buyers. “Escaping from a life of struggle and even hunger and poverty, and finding a job with a monthly income of VND1-2 million are a dream of women there,” Kieu said.

Illiteracy and other hurdles

Since the project ended, H’mong women have continued brocade production and their incomes have improved considerably. However, Kieu said she is still worried about the fact that most H’mong women in Na Kieng and Tong Chao are illiterate, and therefore encounter many difficulties in Vietnamese-language communication, accounting, financial management, new product design approach, and sales.

Craft Link Director, Tran Tuyet Lan, shares the same worry, saying that not only H’mong women in Na Kieng and Tong Chao but also most ethnic minority people have good production traditions and skills but need to be trained in design and sales. She noted that some products made by H’mong people were exported abroad and fell apart due to weather conditions that were quite different from Vietnam’s.

Craft Link worked with producers to find the cause and fix the problem to ensure standard and high quality exports while focusing on assisting the H’Mong craft people to improve design and create unique products.

In the next three to four years, Craft Link will return to Na Kieng and Tong Chao to continue supporting H’mong producers there in design and sales improvement. Annually, Craft Link will open traditional fine art and handicraft fairs, which are expected to provide an opportunity for local producers to meet and exchange information, and find outlets and material sources, said a Craft Link representative.

Attempting to help the White H’mong and Flower H’mong minority in Na Kieng and Tong Chao villages overcome difficulties and bring into play the project’s achievements, authorities of Quang Lam Commune and Bao Lam District are encouraging villagers to re-plant flax as raw material for production while building communal houses for villagers’ cultural and experience exchanges.

Viet Nga