A British Lady’s Efforts to Protect ICHs of Ethnic Groups in China

Authors: Go Chengdu

2017-06-21

There are thousands of delicate handcraft works with exquisite craftsmanship sold in Blue Sheep, including leather carving, knitwear, accessories, woodcarving and paintings by the disabled or poor artisans, some of whom are natural disaster sufferers or are poverty-stricken and from ethnic groups.
The first time I met Rachel Pinniger was at a charity event in Chengdu. On that day, she came to the venue early with various handicrafts on sale before then in her shop. Putting the colorful items on the table under a tent, the gray-haired lady looked energetic and high-spirited. Attracted by Rachel and her commodities, I started chatting with her. Suddenly, she switched the conversation to another topic,"Look at the screen, the girl on the wheelchair came here today. She's over there." I looked at the direction she pointed to, and saw a disabled girl making a handicraft by the side of another table.
Rachel is the owner of Blue Sheep, a handicraft shop at a corner of North Gaoshengqiao Street in downtown Chengdu. There are thousands of delicate handcraft works with exquisite craftsmanship sold in the shop, including leather carving, knitwear, accessories, woodcarving and paintings by the disabled or poor artisans, some of whom are natural disaster sufferers or are poverty-stricken and from ethnic groups.
Dedicated to rural medical training, Rachel had been treating sick people and training rural doctors in many countries in Asia before 2008. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, she came to northwestern Sichuan to help the local victims and train local rural doctors, together with other volunteers, and has stayed in Sichuan ever since.
Transforming from a Doctor to a Maker
When Rachel came to Nepal for the first time, she met a seriously ill woman whose family had spent 40 days traveling along mountain trails and sending her with a stretcher to a hospital. Since then, she had made up her mind to train as many rural doctors as she can for poor areas.
During her over 40 years of medical career, Rachel met lots of patients who should have gone to hospital but couldn't afford the cost. She profoundly realized that people getting ill or disabled resulting primarily from poverty. "Being poor, they cannot eat nutritious food to prevent themselves from getting sick and resist diseases. And when they get sick, they don't have money to get cured."
After coming to Sichuan, Rachel and her friends started teaching disabled kids and children from households with disabled members handwork involving sewing, wood carving, carpentry, metal work and painting. After grasping the skills, the kids could make very nice and cultural products, but had little opportunity to sell them out.
One day, Rachel met, by chance, a friend who had been helping some young people from Yi Ethnic Group with employment. The young Yi adults can make exquisite artifacts but fretted over how to sell them out. Rachel said she would like to ask some shops in Chengdu if they could do some help. Gradually, she got to know many more handicraftsmen with the same headache.
In 2011, Rachel started thinking about setting up a company to buy the handcrafts from these folk artisans and sell them to other places in China and all around the world. Though many people who believed handcrafts are unprofitable dissuaded her from starting the business, Rachel insisted that she should do it just because nobody else wanted to. "I felt I can help them only by opening my shop," she said.
In 2014, Rachel almost ran out of all her savings and opened a arts and crafts shop in Gaoshengqiao. "I didn't make a specific plan for it, but it just happened." She named the shop Blue Sheep because of an impressive experience in a mountainous area, where at a time an audacious blue sheep jumped off a huge rock and gored her with his horns for quiet a long time. Later on, some locals told her that the animal was fond of playing with people just for fun.
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