Women of Ta Phin 1: Mrs Ly May Chan - A series of images and tales from Viet Nam.
This is Mrs Ly May Chan, the women's leader of Ta Phin village. She knows everyone in the village, she knows everything that happens in the village, she knows that the future for the young people in the village is tied to embracing tourism, she knows that to protect her culture she must share it with the world.
I traveled to Vietnam with my beautiful long-time friend Lynden Baxter. We met while at uni, young radical feminist types with opinions* on everything. We still do, however we are better now at enacting the changes we want to see/be/report on.
We wanted to see the world unseen, we wanted to be put to work. We wanted to be able to share our skills and use them to support women in Viet Nam. We went thinking that creative media (Erin) and the words that go with them (Lynden) would be a start in developing a relationship with these women.
We were trepidacious about being seen as 'do-gooders'. Not sure why exactly. Surely being a do-gooder is way better than being a do-nothing or worse a do-badder. It was paternalism we were concerned about. We were adamant that we would ask the women directly what they wanted, and work it out from there.
We approached a number of Not for Profits and charities working in Viet Nam, however they wanted only either cash donations or for us to fit in as physical labour volunteers in projects already running. Neither options worked for us (see above *radical feminist types with opinions).
We fell in with Julian Silverman from RMIT and Dang Xuan Son from Footprint Tours who told us about the women in Ta Phin. Julian visits often and created the village website while Son continues to motivate and engage tourists to Viet Nam in sustainable tourism, something the women in Ta Phin are working hard to build in their village.
Mrs Ly May Chan tells us the women are the bosses of tourism in Ta Phin, she tells us about the homestays, the crafts they make to sell, the herbal baths, and she introduces us to the women in the market. She tells us about the beauty of this place and then she shows us.
Mrs Ly May Chan is fearless. We represent a culture of consumerism, one that can either crush or support. We ask what can we do to help protect her culture. She says share our beautiful culture, our beautiful people, our beautiful home. She says tell your people in Australia that we are ready to welcome them, we want them to come and visit, we want them to come and bring their business to the good people of Ta Phin.
She doesn't have to tell us twice. We have held an exhibition of the images we created, screened the film we made and raised some money to take back to help make the market bigger. We are heading back to Ta Phin later this year. Want to come?
We will be releasing more images and stories of the women of Ta Phin on this blog, you can sign up at top right.
Ly Lo May
Mrs Ly Man May
Ly Ta May
Mrs Ly Ta May King