Advocacy: Bangladesh Artisan Profiles

Advocacy: Bangladesh Artisan Profiles

By Shea Parton & Luke Warner

Photos by M.Ghayasuddin

This summer we were able to place our fifth order of our Market Bag with Saidpur Enterprises, the cooperative we have been working with in Bangladesh since 2009.  As we have been expanding our regional Local + Global Market Bag projects in Paris; Madison, WI; Southampton, NY and most recently in Venice, CA. We are committed to telling the stories of the 21 female artisans who have been employed in the handcrafting of our 2,630 Market Bags to date.

M. Ghayasuddin is the the general manager at Saidpur and he has been our contact there since we partnered with them two years ago. He has told us that as well as being treated with dignity by the co-op coordinators, the women are respected by their families as they are one of the highest earning people in their  family.

Najma Ara Khatoon was born in the city of Saidpur where she also grew up and got married. She has four children, three daughters and a son. All of her children have received an education. Even her youngest son, who is disabled and requires regular care has been ableto attend school this year. Her husband works as a barber but his daily wage of 50 Taka, which is equivalent to only $0.67 USD, nowhere near enough to care for his entire family. A common third world occurrence for women to be the dominant source of income for the family, Najma's last six years of weaving and sewing for Saidpur Enterprises, as a member of the co-op Producers Management Committee, has enabled her to earn enough to take care of her entire family which includes purchasing food and sending her children to school. For a long time, Najma and her family have been living in a refugee camp, but with the dividend she receives from her share in the co-operative she has begun to rebuild the brick walls of her family home, where they hope to soon move. She has also purchased a bed and other necessary household items.

Sultana Perween has been working with Saidpur Enterprises for the last nine years while she has been raising her daughter and her son along with caring for her elderly mother. She is the sole breadwinner in her  household and is proud to work somewhere she is treated well and makes enough money to support her family. The stark reality of how important these types of advocacy projects are to the lives of women like Najma and Sultana is emphasized when M. Ghayasuddin took pains to make sure we knew that Sultana "likes to be a proud mother providing food at least three times in a day." Being able to provide three meals a day for your family is something to be proud of wherever you live but for a single mother in Bangladesh this achievement is all too rare. Along with taking care of the daily needs of her mother and children, Sultana used the dividend money from the co-op to renovate her house, repay a loan and pay her children's school fees.

In recent months, the co-op in Saidpur was also able to develop their own larger infrastructure by directly exporting their products. We are grateful for the international support that we have seen which has allowed us to steadily increase our orders in Saidpur and contribute to their consistent growth and, in turn, the growth of their community. Along with supporting their individual co-op members, the profits from their business are also used to support local educational and social programs, including, most recently, providing backpacks, uniforms and school supplies for over 400 children in Saidpur.

We work each day to ensure that our mission of “advocacy through industry” shapes each decision that we make at Apolis and we are humbled when we are so clearly reminded of why we do the work that we do. After several years of this work we have come to know that supporting the opportunities that communities create to sustain themselves, using their skills and their craft, is the most effective thing we can do. We are constantly inspired by the work ethic and leadership in rural communities, who start with limited resources, and often just a wing & a prayer. Their commitment and determination keeps us striving each day to find new ways to ensure that we maintain our half of the partnership: a strong market for their industry and an audience for their story. We hope you are inspired by the photos below as much as we are.

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