Cultural dimension of growth



During discussions on what made a Miao village unique, its villagers decided to revive their bull-fighting tradition (in Miao culture, bulls are a valued household asset and thus no bull gets killed in bull-fighting). About 20,000 nearby villagers attended the historic four-day event and more than 100 villagers benefited from small-scale business activities. Encouraged by these results the villagers decided to hold the event every year.

In another village, a village of the Dong ethnic group, a fire destroyed 37 wooden houses recently. The villagers decided to use words, photos and films to document and record their traditional fire prevention practices to pass them on to younger generations.

Another small but significant example is related to our work on maternal and child health. Delivering a child at home without the help of a skilled birth attendant puts mother and child both at risk. This is why Chinese health authorities encourage every woman to deliver her child in hospital.

Since ethnic groups often live in remote regions, the UN program has established maternal waiting rooms in a number of pilot hospitals where pregnant women can stay free of charge before going into labor. If adopted nationally as a policy, this intervention can help save thousands of lives of mothers and children, which are now lost because distance, inaccessibility and other cultural concerns prevent women from getting to a hospital in time for safe delivery.

These examples demonstrate how the strengthening of some elements of traditional culture can contribute to social and economic development. Yet another example illustrates the critical importance of improving the entrepreneurship and skills of self-employed artisans from ethnic groups to increase their incomes and enhance their status.

A woman entrepreneur from the Miao community, who specializes in embroidery, participated in several UN project-sponsored training workshops on business skills, craft and quality bench-marking, and development of culture-based products. Using her newly acquired knowledge, she has increased her workforce from 21 to 53, expanded her network of customers to other parts of China and even Japan, and is experimenting with more innovative products for diverse markets.

What is also worth mentioning is that nine out of 26 handicraft products from China that received the 2010 UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts came from artisans who improved their quality, designs and crafts through project training activities.

Since pilot projects only benefit a relatively small number of people, the UN's approach to development combines innovative pilot projects with macro-policy advice. The UN shares its experiences from the pilot sites with Chinese policymakers, and the two deliberate on the implications of these experiences for China's national development plans.

China is committed to lifting its ethnic groups out of poverty. It is investing substantial resources to this end. The UN's added value lies primarily in introducing the best international practices that are in line with national priorities and can be adapted to local conditions. With programs such as this, the UN and China are joining hands to strengthen the cultural dimension of development as a means of achieving the MDGs and national development targets in areas where most of the ethnic groups live.

The author is director and representative of UNESCO Beijing Office.

Source: China Daily


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