Phú Văn Ngòi is founder and manager of the Mỹ Nghiệp Weavers Collective in Mỹ Nghiệp village, Ninh Thuận province. In September 2021, Mr. Ngòi and his colleagues from the Collective responded to the open call from Heritage of Future Past with a proposal to preserve Chăm weaving tradition through research and a training course to help weavers learn traditional Chăm patterns. Upon receiving the grant support from the British Council in December, one researcher, two senior artisans, and 12 learners in Mỹ Nghiệp embarked on a three-month journey to re-discover a series of traditional patterns and helped each other learn how to weave these patterns. By the end of the course, all weavers could make complete products featuring these patterns. They are now also able to teach others, so more people know how to weave these patterns, making them visible in woven products from Mỹ Nghiệp and other Chăm villages.
Mr. Ngòi said: “I was born and grew up in a village where everyone knew how to weave. I am a weaver myself but like everyone else I knew only how to make basic patterns. This project helped me learn how to weave rare and sophisticated patterns that were known to just a few senior artisans.”
Since founding Mỹ Nghiệp Weavers Collective many years ago, Mr. Ngòi has experienced the challenges of motivating villagers to continue their craft, as craft collectives all over the country went out of business when handmade products struggled to compete with fast and cheaply made goods. Their collective was inactive for a long time until two years ago when Mr. Ngòi decided to take up management again. He noticed that Chăm people still prefer to wear their traditional handmade costumes. He thought if their weavers were more skilful and could make more sophisticated patterns, they would be able to sustain their craft-making by selling less products but ensuring better quality and thus a better price, to both Chăm people and visitors. For a long time, the weavers wanted to learn how to make some of the beautiful and rare patterns that the old artisans knew but the Collective could not afford the costs of organising such training, until it was possible to acquire the British Council grant.
However, financial support was not everything Mr. Ngòi and his colleagues received from Heritage of Future Past. They had budget support from the government in the past, but it was only the money that they received. It was different this time. As they were unfamiliar with how to formulate a ‘project’, through the proposal submission process, they received guidance on how to develop a project management plan with all purposes and objectives defined, intended activities thought through, recruitment and training steps outlined and an indicative budget calculated as part of the plan. Mr. Ngòi and his colleagues were happy to have gone through this process and believed they would be able to apply these planning skills in shaping future projects at the Collective, and in similar opportunities to obtain more funding. They also gained more confidence in implementing a project from start to finish, from planning to management, evaluating and reporting on the results.
After participating in the training course, all 12 weavers were able to improve their skills with patterns they had thought to be very complicated. The weavers were happy that they could apply what they learned immediately when making new products – which they hope will sell at a better price than their regular products. Other villagers also took part in the project – many were invited to the launch event and the completion ceremony where researchers and artisans talked about weaving tradition as a unique part of Chăm culture. Villagers shared a better understanding of and a heightened sense of pride for the value of their traditional craft. During the training course, the Collective received a visit from national TV, who broadcasted a brief news report about their project on the country’s most popular TV channel, which was a boost to their confidence . By the time the training course wrapped up at the end of March 2022, Mỹ Nghiệp Weavers Collective had started their production plans with a new enthusiasm. Mr. Ngòi reflected on this project as a source of encouragement for local weavers to muster their strength to rebuild the Collective and their traditional craft after Covid-19’s devastating impact on their villages.