Outside the Van Mieu Temple of Literature is a small shop wedged between the glut of clothiers, haberdasheries and coffee businesses. It’s a place where President Clinton and Hillary visited….there’s a photo portrait to prove it, but it’s hidden away in a third room on the first storey that you can only get to by navigating a stone balcony barely wide enough for a child. Of course, this is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – having photos of an American President isn’t terribly high on the “ToDo” list. Still, a proud visit for this place to trumpet.
So, what is Craft Link? Well, it is a Vietnamese ‘not-for-profit’ organization assisting small craft businesses.
Started by NGOs to generate income for both poor and marginalized people it promotes handicraft projects to develop new skills, design new products, organize those products and then sell them. All activities undertaken by groups with whom Craft Link work have to meet basic criteria such as fair wages, environmental and employee safety. Craft Link, whilst strictly ensuring they do not work with state-owned factories or joint -venture organizations who already have access to market opportunities, seek to work directly with those people produce the handicrafts. There is a preference to engage with producers who are either marginalized or disadvantaged, such as ethic minorities, street kids, and those with disabilities. The whole point is to engage these peoples in their whole social welfare, not just as a niche producers of handicrafts.
Examples of Craft Link production:
- projects that trained the Black Thai, Nung and Ta Oi ethic minority in remote areas to use traditional weaving and embroidery;
- the creation of the Mai Handicraft group to create employment for street kids and disadvantaged women;
- stone craving skills of the Hanoi street children;
- quilting skills being taught to handicapped girls;
- wood-carving from the Hue region.
Craft Link has also traveled to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to purchase traditional products in addition to developing its own products such as handmade paper stationery from a village north of Hanoi. Whilst we were in this particular shop we saw a lot of tradtional Thai weaving skills. There is a a portfolio of photos of these producers squeezed between the shelves and hangings.
Craft Link does make money, the profits used both for paying handicraft workers a fair wage and to facilitate product and business acumen training. Craft Link also ensures it is a self-sustaining group and not dependent on outside funds for its existence. Of course, it also relies on expatriate and Vietnamese locals to volunteer services and time helping with bazaars, keeping costs low and ensuring their work remains a community endeavour targeting issues of unemployment and poverty.
Given the Diplomat was recommended this place by a local Canadian Embassy employee it was inevitable we pay it a visit and drop a few million Vietnamese Dong there. Beautiful fabrics, stunning weaves, unique designs, all created for unisex, women, kids (not much for men to be honest). Its one of those places where you can get away from the factory outlets, spend your tourism cash and believe it’s going to a better place.
If you’re in Hanoi…pay it a visit, the web page at the top gives the exact address.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?