Young enthusiasts keep Tibetan crafts alive
For Sonang Tashi, it’s very exciting to be able to pass on an old craft that he has learned since he was a little boy. And at the same time, he is helping young people find a livelihood.
Sonang Tashi, a 54-year-old resident of Qumalai county in Northwest China’s Qinghai province, says his family has been devoted to making traditional Tibetan ornaments for generations.
While the craft was only passed on strictly within the family, Sonang Tashi has adapted his idea with time, especially whenmanyold crafts are threatened bymoderntechnology.
“Instead of letting it disappear, I amwilling to teach whoever is willing to learn, and promote the traditional craft as I can,” says Sonang Tashi.
Sonang Tashi is glad that his goal echoes with that of the local government.
The county government helped him turn his family workshop into a firm called Qumalai Tibetan Craft Products Company in 2013.
The government agreed to fund the company’s hiring of 10 experienced craftsmen who specialize in 16 kinds of work, from making traditional ornaments to costumes. In return, the company provides free training to the local youth who are willing to learn the skills.
NyimaTashi, Qumalai’s county mayor, says the free training program is part of the county’s effort to alleviate poverty.
“Instead of simply providing financial subsidies, we want to help them learn skills that can sustain them for a lifetime,” saysNyima Tashi.
Since the program began, more than 60 students have received training here so far. Most are local people younger than 35andfrompoor families.
Meanwhile, a bigger government-funded skills-training center is being constructed in the county, which can take in moretrainees at thesametime.
The government plans to train about 400 craftsmen every year in the future. The apprentices can expect to earn about 6,000 yuan ($900) per monthafter two years’ training. The government will help promote their products and provide them assistance in finding jobs or opening new workshops, the countymayor says.
“I decided to study the craft because I found the work very interesting after watching other craftsmen,” says Tsering Tsongpoi, 17, who has focused on learning the decorations on Tibetan-style knives for more than one year at the workshop.
As an apprentice, he can now earn more than 2,000 yuan per month. His parents, who run a small retail shop in the county town, are very supportive of his decision because the training is free, he says.
“I hope I can open a workshop like my teacher has after I finish the training,” says Tsering Tsongpoi.
“Very few people wanted to learn these crafts earlier. But there are more young people willing to study them now, because the government is very supportive and there is a huge market potential,” says Ghama Tanzin, a 51-year-old craftsman who earns about 20,000 yuan per month teaching at the workshop.
“It’s a good thing that they can both inherit the traditional craft and make a good says Ghama Tanzin.
According to company manager Sonang Tashi, thanks to the craftsmen and new techniques they have introduced, the quality and variety of his company’s products have improved significantly. With the promotion of the local government, the products have found bigger markets, and are even sold in some faraway Tibetan regions now.
“Without government support, it’s hard for craftsmen like me to expand the market alone,” Sonang Tashi says. living,”
Young Tibetans make traditional crafts at Qumalai Tibetan Craft Products Company in Qinghai province. The county government of Qumalai helps the workshop to hire experienced craftsmen to produce and pass on skills of making ornaments.