09:08 | 12/03/2019 Society
(VEN) - Mua Y Ganh heads a brocade production team that has been turning brocade products into commercial goods for the past 22 years, creating stable incomes for residents of Pa Co Commune in Hoa Binh Province. More importantly, she has changed the lives of Green H’mong women in the northern province, teaching members of the ethnic group to speak Vietnamese and boosting their confidence in their abilities and family roles.
Memories of difficult times
Ganh often picks up guests, including tourists and brocade buyers, and takes them to visit the workplace of the production team and see how they make brocade products.
Ganh said that prior to the 1990s, residents of Pa Co Commune earned their living mostly by planting, transporting and trading in poppy. Although this livelihood brought them “huge” incomes, their lives were dismal. Young men wasted away due to opium addiction. Green H’mong women, the main breadwinners in many families, worked in the fields and took care of their children, some finding themselves widowed at an early age.
In 1996, under government guidance, Pa Co residents had to stop planting, transporting and trading in poppy, finding themselves destitute. To create alternative livelihoods for the Green Hmong women, the nongovernmental Canadian organization Oxfam Quebec stepped in to help. The organization had been active in Vietnam since the early 1990s, launching livelihood and food security projects for residents of rural areas, especially ethnic minorities and women, and enhancing women’s leadership and economic empowerment.
For three years, as vice president of the commune’s women’s association, Ganh joined project officials in efforts to encourage local women to participate in brocade production. In the daytime, she worked in the field. At night, she went to each family, carrying her child on her back, to persuade women to join the production team. Ganh taught herself to speak the national language and then taught it to other women in the commune. Following patient efforts, a brocade production team consisting of 50 local women was established.
Ganh recalls that it was not easy to persuade her fellow women to join the production team, but it was even more difficult to retain them. The women were asked to create new brocade products quite different from the traditional ones with which they were familiar, while initial incomes from brocade production were much lower compared with selling poppy. Some members left the team, and Ganh and project officials had to persuade them to come back. To maintain the team, she pledged to sell all products made by its members.
Ganh led the production team through numerous difficulties and hardships, but her efforts and those of others have paid off handsomely. The team’s brocade products have entered the sales network of Craft Link, a non-profit fair trade organization which helps traditional craft producers revive their culture and improve their livelihoods through handicraft production and marketing. Pa Co’s distinctive brocade is also available in souvenir shops in major cities, such as Hanoi, Da Nang and Thua Thien Hue, creating incomes of tens of millions of dong for the women each month.
Ganh said painting with beeswax distinguishes Pa Co’s brocade products from others. Green H’mong women use specific kinds of pens and beeswax to paint vivid images on brocade fabrics, such as the sun and a tray with different family dishes.
The craftwork is time consuming. According to Hang Y Thanh, a member of the production team, before using beeswax to paint, it must be heated to a certain temperature, but if the beeswax is too hot, it will adversely affect the quality of the painting.
Sung Y Sua, a mother of four who joined the team six years ago, says the brocade craft brings her family a monthly income of VND3-5 million or even VND7 million, which is enough to support her family even during a bad harvest.
Tran Thi Tuyet Lan, General Director of Craft Link, said that she had been impressed by the changes in Green H’mong women in Pa Co Commune. They have become more confident of their abilities, as well as their role in their families and society.
Craft Link is helping the brocade production team in Pa Co Commune apply a new marketing method by making
video clips describing the skills of brocade makers, as well as the meaning of paintings on brocade products. These
video clips are posted on the website of Craft Link and sent to its partners who want information about the production
Viet Nga & Thu Phuong