By Tang Jing (Staff of Secretariat Office of the Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme [Team of Agricultural College of Guangxi University] / Second Cohort Intern of the Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme)
As a performer of the Ecological Museum, Wang Caihin (middle) dressed up
for traditional Yao dance to welcome visiting tourists.
“Our roots, spreading from where we were born, determine our language and our attitudes in life. Our passion for our national culture began at the moment we were born and accompanies us in our growth.” This is how Wang Caijin concluded her report on her learning trip. Her words show how deeply she identifies with her people and how this has helped her to grow. When I recollect the first time we met a year ago, the young woman who tried hard to explain the meaning of her national dress (Baiku Yao) comes back to my mind.
Wang Caijin is a Sixth Cohort Intern of the Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme and is a member of staff of at the Baiku Yao Ecology Museum at Lihu Township in Nandan County (henceforth the 'Ecology Museum') The Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme was launched in 2005 and had gone through various stages by 2012. Starting with a wide range of issues of public interest, the programme has gradually focused on rural development and is currently concerned with issues of ecological agriculture and preservation of traditional culture.
Caijin is a Baiku Yao from Lihu Township in Nandan County, Guangxi. She did very well in school but had to drop out because of her family's financial difficulties. She went to work in Guangdong when she left high school. After working in the city for a year, Caijin came home and felt she did not want to leave again. Around that time the Ecology Museum was recruiting young people for a dance troupe. Caijin joined the troupe, learnt Baiku Yao folk dance and performed for tourists visiting the museum. The Ecology Museum is a partner of the Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme and hosts interns. A year after Caijin joined the dance troupe she became a candidate for the internship programme with the endorsement of the Ecology Museum. This was the first time she and I met. When we visited the museum and the village, Caijin enthusiastically introduced us to her village. She and her husband were our guides during our visit. We saw that she was very passionate about preserving the costumes of her people. While she had expectations for the development of her village, she also had doubts. At that time, the Ecology Museum was hoping that more local youths would stay behind in the village. In the end, Caijin was admitted to the internship programme after going through the approval procedures.
A Model Student Becomes an Enthusiast for Community Culture Preservation
After the interns had worked with the host organisations for a while, we arranged a novice training programme for them. This was divided into two parts: self development and community learning. The self development aspect was conducted in Nanning while the community learning part took place in Lihu at the Ecology Museum as well as in a village the museum had chosen for cultural preservation. I remember during the early part of the training, Caijin was always carrying a notebook. Whether we were playing a game, sharing experiences or having a discussion, Caijin was always writing in her notebook as though she was taking notes in class. Whenever the facilitator asked a question, she was always the first to respond and she would speak as if she was answering a teacher in the classroom, in a serious manner. She was indeed a model student. Later when everyone became more familiar with each other, Caijin no longer carried her notebook all the time. She learnt to use her feelings in games and to share what she discovered.
The second part of the training, which was on community learning, began with visits and surveys. The participants visited the irrigation system and the paddy fields, met with villagers and summed up what they saw and heard. Assisted by the facilitators, the interns shared what they had learnt. Together they sketched the ideas of the preservation of community culture. The community that they studied was the village where the Ecological Museum was located – Caijin’s home village. During those few days, she shared with other interns the customs of her people that she knew and acted as an interpreter. During one of the visits, she explained the use of glutinous rice in the Baiku Yao marriage ceremony and everyone enjoyed her lively explanation.
Since she joined the internship programme, her work at the Ecological Museum has given Caijin more opportunity to reflect on modernisation and the traditional culture of her people. She has visited a number of Miao villages in Guizhou and has been comparing the different paths of development adopted by different villages of the same minority ethnic group, as well as the impact of tourism on those villages. Caijin always links what she sees with the experience of her own people. She has gained many insights from these visits, which have fostered new ideas inside her. “I was deeply moved by the visit to Guizhou in September. Tourism is like a double-edged sword. Though it may bring material benefits to us, we may also lose our own nature in the process,” she said.
After her trip in Guizhou, Caijin seems to be more motivated in her work. She has improved her tour interpretation and hosted performances as well as practicing folk dancing and singing. All the progress she has made has won approval and encouragement from her colleagues.
Talent Not Neglected in Home Town
Revisiting Historical Hardships Embodied by Traditional Costumes
Decorated with elaborate embroidery, the Baiku Yao costume is gorgeous and colourful. However, many young people in the village no longer make or wear clothing of this sort. From the time she applied to take part in the internship programme, Caijin had been eager to organise other young people to learn how to make their traditional costume. What she needed was an opportunity and funding. To encourage interns to turn ideas into action, the Youth Internship Programme provides each intern with an action fund of up to RMB5000. When Caijin learnt about this action fund, she decided to apply. Earlier she had helped an anthropologist to conduct a study in the village and she had taken the opportunity to investigate the needs of the villagers. After receiving positive responses from some young women in the village, she submitted a funding application. The proposal was revised six times before it was approved. It was truly a learning process for Caijin.
“I gained a lot of insights from this small programme and also new perspectives on how to solve problems. I had always thought that it was easy to do something well. I had thought I could accomplish anything so long as I had all the things that I need. It was only after the teachers from the secretariat [of the internship programme] explained to me how it should be done that I realised a programme was neither a shopping list nor a casually organised group. Any programme has its challenges. Even though it is important that villagers participate of their own accord, an organisation needs someone to conduct the programme and be responsible for it. A plan can only be carried out smoothly when everyone joins in to manage it. When the plan was finally approved, I felt as though I had emerged from a hard-fought battle and I was filled with confidence. When I look at my initial plan again, I realise that I have grown, though slowly, through taking such a journey.”
Over the year of her internship, Caijin’s family has given her much support and encouragement. When she was faced with setbacks in her funding application, they comforted her. When she was away from home on learning trips or implementing programmes, they took care of her small child. From their support she gained the strength for actions. The small grant programme planned by Caijin has had an unexpected result, thanks to the support of her family and the Ecological Museum. Not only have children been coming to listen to stories about their traditional costumes and to learn how to make them, their mothers have also joined as teachers. They hold the hands of their own children to teach them how to sew. Border embroidery is something basic that beginners must learn but it is also something quite difficult for children. Even though they only learn how to do a small piece, it is enough for them to experience the rigours of embroidery, not to speak of the arduous work of weaving, dyeing and making designs with sticky paste. It is in this way that children learn to treasure the marvellous costume of their own people.
The process of making Baiku Yao costumes is highly complex and the many embroidery patterns on the costumes are embodiments of the rich culture of the Yao people. In the early stage of the programme, the elderly people taking part in the anthropological study enthusiastically described folklore and told stories about their costumes. In the first activity that Caijin conducted for her programme, she showed two documentary films about the burial ceremony of Baiku Yao and how the Lantern Festival was celebrated. People participating in these two events came fully dressed in traditional costume. After watching the documentaries, two elderly people took turns to tell stories about the origin of their costumes and the meaning of different stitching patterns. This lasted for an hour. For children and even many young adults, it was their first time they learned that the history of their people and the hardships their ancestors went through have been sewn stitch by stitch on their costumes for descendants to remember.
“Rural culture is the only way I know that I could express myself honestly and truly.”
As part of the mid-term training activities of the Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme, the interns visited organisations working on related issues. We visited our partners who were working on the preservation of ethnic minority culture in Guizhou. For Caijin, visiting Guizhou again enabled her to reflect more deeply. When the visit came to an end, she concluded: “Rural culture is the only way I know that I could express myself honestly and truly. Only when one infuses true passion into culture can one feel the sense of responsibility and belonging.” I was touched by these words.
I think it is hard to predict the future. A village with such beautiful culture may one day be swept over by the modern fantasy produced by the global factory. Under the pressure to earn a living, Caijin may one day have to leave her beloved village again. However, no matter what the future holds, this young woman is now closely linked with her people. It is as though there is a root that channels the wisdom and the blessing of Caijin's ancestors to her and provides her with alternative perspectives, strength for action and possibilities for reflection and change.
It is often said that a person becomes anxious when near to his or her home. It is easier to do something when one is away from home because you do not have to face pressure from your family, relatives and neighbours. Caijin shows us a different story. In a village where the traditional ethnic culture is relatively well preserved, working to keep that culture alive is not something that people find hard to accept. By turning one’s ideas into action, one is able to accomplish something in life even in one’s home village.
 The Small Grants for Youth Internship Programme is a youth development programme launched by PCD in collaboration with the Agricultural College of Guangxi University to support young people concerned with rural development (ecological agriculture, CSA, preservation of traditional culture) by providing them with one-year full-time internship hosted by non-governmental organisations in Guangxi. By working together with our partners for public benefit, we aim to respond to the needs of society and to support university students to express their concern for society and respond through actions. In this way, young people grow and find their value and position in the development of society.
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