lifestyle

Meet The Sarawakian Who Keeps Our Rich Heritage Alive By Working With Rural Communities

In 2012, Fong assumed a workshop of songket weavers and has since worked with over 500 craft artisans in Sarawak.

Cover image via @tanoticrafts (Instagram) & Jacqueline Fong (Provided to SAYS)

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Meet Jacqueline Fong, an entrepreneur with an amicable goal to improve the livelihood of Sarawakian rural communities

Jacqueline Fong is a 46-year-old Sarawakian who co-founded Tanoti Crafts in 2012 after working in the banking industry for 18 years.

Tanoti Crafts functions as a platform for craft artisans from rural Sarawakian villages to keep the tradition alive using skills and techniques learnt from their ancestors.

Since its creation, Fong has worked with over 500 craft artisans from 25 villages across Sarawak, who weave, make handicrafts, and produce indigenous food, as an effort towards preserving heritage, promoting women empowerment, and advancing the rural community.

"I co-founded Tanoti Sdn Bhd in 2012 to assume an existing workshop of songket weavers which was about to close down," Fong shared with SAYS. From then, the organisation grew from working with just 11 artisans to over 500 artisans across Sarawak.

Through Tanoti Crafts, she also works with food producers and sewists to provide income and elevate the livelihoods of the rural community in Sarawak.

Fong provides a platform for Sarawakian artisans who specialise in weaving crafts and producing indigenous food

Some of the woven crafts they produce include bamboo table runners and rattan storage baskets, all handwoven by local artisans using traditional methods that has been passed down through generations.

Apart from that, Fong works with Sarawakian food producers in order to commercialise heritage foods via Tanoti Foods. Some of the traditional dishes produced are tuak, engkabang butter, gula apong, and the famous kek lapis that's dearly loved by all Malaysians.

Through the production of these indigenous food items, Fong earned Kuching the honour of being the first city in Malaysia to be listed as a City of Gastronomy in the UNESCO Creative Cities network in 2021.

One of her initiatives was the development of a rattan craft program for rural communities to generate a sustainable income by utilising the resources of the Sarawakian jungle

She even elevated the traditional songket fashion handwoven by Sarawakian sewists at Tenun Fashion Week 2021

Tanoti House, under Tanoti Crafts, combined traditional and contemporary textiles through the Malay songket using the weft technique at the fashion show. The models donned part of Tanoti House's collection that featured a Malay songket woven with Shetland wool, an unconventional weaving fabric.

When the pandemic hit, Fong generated a network of more than 100 sewists to produce masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)

During the Movement Control Order (MCO), Fong established a network of over 100 sewists who produced personal protective equipment (PPE) and fabric masks as part of Tanoti's COVID-19 response initiative.

"Many of our sewists generated good income during this period, when other people found it difficult to survive. Two of our sewists, Job and his wife Jessica, managed to build a farmhouse after eight months with payments received from our organisation. They even started a rabbit farm," Fong shared.

When the artisan community of Long Balau suffered a fire which burnt down their longhouse, Fong instituted an urgent donation drive

It was a proactive effort towards rebuilding their homes after the fire incident in November 2020. Through Tanoti Crafts, Fong managed to bring in building materials and building tools by early December 2020.

By March 2021, the residents of the Long Balau longhouse were able to move into a permanent structure with the resources donated, even before government aid was disbursed.

Fong hopes that, via Tanoti Crafts, rural Sarawakian communities will be able to generate a sustainable income using the skills and techniques inherited from their ancestors

In this way, we are able to preserve cultural identity as well as build an industry around heritage traditions.
Jacqueline Fong

Her efforts to alleviate poverty among rural Sarawakian communities have not gone unnoticed, as she has earned many recognitions since establishing Tanoti Crafts

Fong was awarded the World Craft Council Award of Excellence for Handicraft in 2014 and 2016. She also earned the MaGIC Amplify Award in 2015 and the British Council-Arthur Guinness Entrepreneur for Good People’s Choice Award in 2014.

Currently, Fong is one of the embellished speakers of The Hasanah Forum, and uses her platform as a philanthropist to raise awareness on poverty alleviation for rural Sarawkian communities.

Here's how the rakyat can help: By buying their handicrafts!

Support Tanoti Crafts by buying their variety of beautiful handicrafts, featuring statement pieces like songket shawls and home decor items such as woven baskets.

We can contribute towards continuing the rich history of our culture and tradition by supporting local artisans. 

Find out more about Tanoti Crafts here.

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here

Image via SAYS

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