Culture Culture

15/02/2018 - 17:20

Oliver Oet – the inspirer

Ceramic artist Oliver Oet, 62 years old, from Paris (France) has crossed thousands of nautical miles with his Japanese ceramic production techniques to bring new life to the disabled children at the Hue Hope Center (20 Nhat Le, Hue city).

Passing love via Raku pottery

A few decades ago, when still a young man, Oliver Oet and his family members merged in the peace-loving French to protest against the war in Vietnam. "Although I had never known your country, I could still understand the pain of war. At that time, my family as well as millions of French peace lovers shouted out our petitions, asking the troops to withdraw from Vietnam,” artist Oliver Oet recalled.

Oliver teaching the children with disabilities to create Raku pottery

The tie with Vietnam was knotted again when his family organized a festival for children with disabilities on the streets of Paris seven years ago. At that time, there was a woman, who introduced herself as a Vietnamese French, proactively approached to talk to him and asked him to help the children with disabilities in Vietnam.

Moved by the women’s profound love for her home country, his family supported the staff from the education and rehabilitation centers for children with disabilities of Vietnam, including those from the Hue Hope Center  to come to France to learn about how to make Raku pottery. This was the very first step that they made on their journey to help the children with disabilities in Vietnam.

The plan was just under way, and suddenly the Vietnamese women passed away. But he still wanted to keep his promise. In 2012, with his wife, Oliver Oet came to the Hue Hope Center and decided to carry out a project of his own to help the children here. Every year, Oliver flies over and spends at least three weeks at the center to teach the children to make pottery.

"Raku pottery is derived from Japan but very popular in France. With the disabled, art will help them create things in their own ways. As a Raku pottery artisan, I want to help the children that way," Oliver said.

The images of disabled children passionately sitting around Oliver to work on the pottery exemplify the endeavor that the respectable old artisan has made for the past years. According to the Hue Hope Center’s staff, the children have learned to select the soil and enamels to craft Raku pottery in shapes of cups, glasses, bowls, baskets, and animals. Breaking the shyness that they had before, they have become to shape up a proactive approach to customers to introduce them about their soulful products. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration at all to say that the children’s life has turned into a new leaf thanks to Raku pottery.

Since 2014, the pottery workshop has introduced a Raku pottery experience tour with local handicapped children, attracting many domestic and international visitors. "On average, the center receives 5 or 6 tourist groups every month, and in August 2017 alone, it greeted up to 20 groups from European countries," said Tran Thi Minh Nhat, a staff member of the Hue Hope Center.

"In 2018, I will invite the visitors, who want to visit Raku pottery at my workshop in France, to visit Vietnam and experience the art at the Hue Hope Center,” revealed Oliver.

“Ardently in love” with Hue

Few know that in the first three years of the project, the French artisan had to cover every expense of the Raku pottery project at the Hue Hope Center from his pocket money. In 2015, he mobilized his friends and relatives to set up a non-governmental organization to support children with disabilities, starting with giving hands to the Hue Hope Center. The organization, named Ateliers Vincent Marie Oet (AVMO), currently has 60 members.

The products of the Hue Hope Center introduced on the France-Vietnam Solidarity Day

From the day he became a member of the Hue Hope Center, his love for Hue and Vietnam turned out to grow more ardently. If knowing someone in a travel intention, Oliver would enthusiastically suggest them to come to Vietnam and drop by Hue to participate in the Raku pottery experience tour with the disabled children.

For the past time, his AVMO has launched many activities to attract public attention and fundraise. Every year, on Christmas occasion, on the yacht of Oliver Oet’s family on the Seine River, AVMO celebrates the French-Vietnamese Solidarity Day. At this function, the stories about the country and people of Vietnam are shared and the products by the handicapped children of the Hue Hope Center are introduced to the participants by the Raku pottery artisan. These are also opportunities for attendants to enjoy Vietnamese foods prepared by Oliver Oet on his own.

Over the past two years, Oliver come over to Vietnam no longer only on his own but on behalf of AVMO. Raku pottery workshop has been fully invested with sufficient and modern equipment by AVMO to enable a complete product to be created. In 2017, AVMO also piloted a goat breeding model in accordance with food safety and hygiene standards for poor households whose children are attaching with the second branch of Hue Hope Center in A Luoi. "Not only helping local people to escape from poverty, the husbandry model also provides consumers with quality goat meat. In the long run, we plan to scale up this model and help people to produce cheese from goat's milk," Oliver added. Once being stabilized and professionalized, Raku pottery and goat's milk cheese will be associated with the brand of Hue Hope Center.

"My dream for Hue children still goes on. In the near future, my wife and I will spend more time in Vietnam teaching English to poor children,” told the old kind artisan to me when he was saying goodbye with a very firm handshake and a hope to see each other again in a tour of New Year 2018.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Hong, Director of the Hue Hope Center, said: "Not only does he help to change the life of unfortunate children, Oliver Oet also inspires us with his perseverance to reach the set goals, no matter how hard they are.”

Story and photos: Hai Thuan