Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesTurning Traditional Knowledge into an Economic Opportunity

Turning Traditional Knowledge into an Economic Opportunity

Like many other Red Dao women in Ta Phin, a commune close to the tourism hot spot of Sapa, Tan Ta May only finished primary school. Her childhood was very much intertwined with traditional Dao herbal bathing remedies handed down from generation to generation. However, the severe poverty particularly of ethnic minority women in the area, had forced her to earn a living from being a street vendor and a tour guide in Sapa town. Her opportunity came when she was invited to work as a dispenser at a Dao herbal bath service company. She then realised that she could build on the knowledge she had since she was a child to help other women in hardship in the village. It was when she decided to establish the Red Dao Community Cooperative, initially with seven women from Ta Phin women, to provide herbal bath services and develop herbal bath products based on traditional remedies of the Red Dao and the indigenous medicinal plants.

In the beginning it was not smooth sailing. When registering the business, there was disbelief from the authorities towards a woman’s ability to run a business, especially an ethnic minority woman who only finished primary school. During her appointment with the authorities, she read a whole article from a newspaper to prove her ability. Thankfully, the registration for the Red Dao Community Cooperative was approved and then established under her guidance.

Tan Ta May at Red Dao Community Cooperative’s showroom in Ta Phin, Sapa, Lao Cai

From the beginning, thanks to her relationships with tour guides in Sapa, the Cooperative had a regular trickle of visitors. Gradually the income of Cooperative members began to increase, and the number of paid up members has now reached an impressive 120. However, to maintain and increase the income of the local women, she constantly pondered how to expand the scale and improve the facilities and services to attract more visitors. Through the support of the GREAT Program, the Red Dao Community Cooperative is expanding its sourcing through a partnership with Hoang Lien National Park and developing a 4 ha seedling plantation area.

May was hosting a sharing session on gender equality to the families of Cooperative’s members

Through training and coaching, May continues to share her knowledge of medicinal plants and the Dao bathing herbs through the project. Given her background, May easily empathises with ethnic minority women who are facing hardship and she regularly organises gender equality workshops with households to improve women’s position in the family and community and to help them gain confidence.

Tan Ta May met Ms Robyn Mudie, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam at GREAT event From Village to Markets in December 2019

Through expanding the supply and range of herbal bath products, engaging additional women farmers in the supply of inputs, upgrading processing and bathing facilities, and promoting new products, the project will help increase income for 165 women and create 70 new jobs.   

“Seeing women’s hardship having to work in the field in the morning, do housework in the afternoon, take care of their husbands and children without having a voice, I feel compassion for them. I want to develop the traditional values of Sapa, not only to increase my own income but also to help other women in the village and to contribute to the development of our local tourism.”