Toy museum to help protect heritage

VietNamNet Bridge - With a dearth of traditional toys for children Nguyen Thi Huong, director of the Centre for Research and Support for Vietnamese Children (Cenforchil), says they play with imported alternatives. Huong and her staff at Cenforchil plan to establish Viet Nam’s first toy museum by early 2012 in Ha Noi.

 Why does Viet Nam need a toy museum?

Toys are very important to a child’s development. Selecting the right toys for a child to play with is no less important.

Traditional toys have declined in Viet Nam, which is swamped with foreign imports. Children are now playing with toys that are often unsafe and are not educational. The task of preserving our heritage is therefore more urgent than ever.

Many countries in the world have toy museums, while Viet Nam, which has a long history of toy-making, does not have o­ne.

When travelling around the country I found that many children knew nothing about traditional Vietnamese toys and games. They had also never learnt folk songs or dances. Toys imported from China, such as dolls and plastic guns, are popular in remote areas. Children living in big cities just play computer games.

We conducted a survey and found that 80 per cent of foreign toys sold in Viet Nam were made in China. While diversified in form and appearance, most were cheap and unsafe because of the materials used to make them.

That’s the sad reality and that is why I wanted to set up the museum. The hope is that Vietnamese children will get to see what traditional toys look and feel like.

How will the museum work? Could you tell us something about it?

The museum will occupy a 38,000sq.m area of Choc Hill, Dong Xuan Commune, in Quoc Oai District of Ha Noi, 30km north-west of the city centre. o­n display will be domestic and foreign toys, which children can look at and play with in special exhibition rooms of about 300sq.m.

In all, there will be 18 exhibition houses in two-storey stilt houses. They will have cement pillars, wooden floors and bamboo walls. The houses will be divided into categories such as indoor toys, discovery toys (which require creativeness), outdoor water toys and traditional toys. The project will cost VND60 billion (US$3.37 million).

The centre now has 5,000 different toys.

The collection is dominated by traditional playthings such as bamboo kites, puppets, iron boats and baked clay toys. It includes some toys from northern ethnic groups such as the Muong, Tay and Dao.

There will also be old toys o­n exhibit that were o­nce used by famous artists and politicians, as well as the general public.

The toy museum is a private museum. Cenforchil is a social organisation, not funded by the government. How will you finance the running of the museum?

The museum will be a non-profit self-funded business. Some playrooms and showrooms will require entrance tickets. Visitors will have to pay to enter, and while their children are playing, parents will be able to take some refreshment in the cafe or log o­n to the internet.

The land for the project was gifted by Binh Minh Limited Company. The capital to build the museum came from individuals and organisations.

Our biggest worry was paying for the Vietnamese and foreign toys because our budget is limited.

Why do you think traditional toys have lost their appeal? What can adults do to change their children’s playing habits?

Children don’t play with traditional toys for many reasons, and adults have to take some responsibility for that. Adults are not encouraging their children to play with traditional toys. Adults obviously don’t feel it is important.

Traditional toys reflect Vietnamese national characteristics. They are part of Viet Nam’s culture and heritage. When the people begin to appreciate their value, then we can help to preserve and promote them.

To make them more popular to today’s children, we are looking to improve the designs of traditional toys and use modern materials. New materials shouldn’t make it harder for children to play. The toy’s educational and aesthetic appeal of the toys should be maintained.

When planning the museum, did Cenforchil get any feedback from children, parents and the public of the toys?

Because it’s the first toy museum for children in Viet Nam, we received a lot of attention from the public. Parents and children were extremely enthusiastic about the project and gave us a lot of encouragement. We are also supported by domestic and foreign organisations and news agencies.

Their support has been invaluable to us and we can’t wait to give this present to our children.

Inner Sanctum: Apart from building the museum, does Cenforchil have any other plans to promote traditional toys?

Over the last few years, Cenforchil has focused o­n researching and collecting toys. We have held regular workshops and exhibitions of traditional toys.

Working with artisans, we will preserve and improve traditional toys. We want to revive the art of toy making.

Ha Noi People’s Committee and VUSTA have approved our plans to develop traditional toy production in the run up to Ha No’s 1,000th anniversary. We plan to hold more workshops o­n traditional toys in Ha Noi, as well as a trade fair for the Trung Thu (mid-autumn) Festival in September. We will also hold toy-making classes. We plan to produce TV programmes and publish books o­n how to make simple toys.