While a majority of the nation’s foreign assistance programs focus on agriculture and medical care, an ongoing project between a government-commissioned agency and diplomatic ally Honduras is helping local people establish a creative industry — pottery.
Under the two-year project that began last year, a team commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Taipei-based Corporate Synergy Development Cente has been working closely with potters in the town of Valle de Angeles.
Although residents have been making works of art from clay for many years, their products tended to be fragile and porous, said Laurencio Chen, a consultant with the center who is responsible for the project.
To address the problem, a Taiwanese team has been working to enhance the quality of the kilns used for firing pottery, Chen said in a recent interview in Taipei.
“We’ve been helping them raise the temperatures in the kilns,” Chen said, adding that this makes pottery products more solid.
The temperatures in kilns used by potters in Valle de Angeles used to range between 850°C and 950°C, Chen said.
However, with the team’s guidance, the temperatures have been raised to above 1,000°C, he said.
Equally important is firing the creativity of local artists.
“Their products tended to be homogeneous,” Chen said.
He gave several examples of how Honduran pottery artists could capitalize on local cultural characteristics.
For example, ceramic coffee cups could become a specialty of the town, especially as Honduras is a major coffee producer in Central America, he said.
Making products with an angel theme to reflect the name of the town, which means “valley of angels,” could be another option, he added.
Since Honduras is one of the areas where Mayan civilization originated, local artists are also encouraged to incorporate images and characteristics associated with Mayan culture in their pottery products, Chen said.
“Making people think of Valle de Angeles whenever they find products combining Mayan culture with pottery” is the ultimate goal, he said.
That is also the idea of the project’s “one town, one product” concept — creating a niche industry by encouraging pottery makers to infuse their products with local cultural characteristics and create items unique to the town.
The concept stems from Taiwan’s own successful experience.
Yingge (鶯歌) in New Taipei City (新北市) is a well-known tourist town that has hundreds of pottery factories offering a range of products, from vases and ocarinas — a simple wind instrument shaped like a sweet potato, with finger holes and a mouthpiece — to teapots and tableware.
Yingge’s success was duplicated by the Corporate Synergy Development Center in many communities around Taiwan, Chen said, adding that developing signature products in turn helped the communities attract more tourists.
Pottery artists from Yingge, who impressed Honduran officials during their visits to the town, have also been invited to give classes to their Central American counterparts in Valle de Angeles to help improve their techniques.
The classes have received positive feedback, Chen said.
Initiated by Honduras, the project is part of the Honduran government’s efforts to create a niche industry to boost visitor numbers in Valle de Angeles, a popular tourist destination, said Jaime Wu (吳進木), director-general of the foreign ministry’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs.
The Taiwan-Honduras project is the first foreign aid program offered by Taiwan to a diplomatic ally to focus on the development of a niche industry, Wu said.
“If the project delivers satisfactory outcomes, it may be expanded to other areas in Honduras,” he said, adding that Taiwan is also in talks with Guatemala on a similar project.