We've been having a lot of fun in the sample room making a completely new product for Pebble - rag dolls. A selection of three rag dolls will be available from the June catalogue this year and we hope you will like them as much as we've been having fun making them. They are very much Pebble rag dolls and feature crochet hair and accessories.
The face was taken from a doll I lovingly made myself at the tender age of 8! I still have that doll - her name is Molly and she sits around in our home in Dhaka. After nearly 4 decades I still think her face is beautiful and absolutely ideal for a Pebble rag doll. Making dolls is a new skill for the Hathay Bunano ladies and I've had a lot of fun in the past couple of weeks teaching these skills. I've been teaching both the sewing construction and the pattern making and its great to work with women who are so eager and interested to learn new skills. When Hathay Bunano first started in 2004 I used to do all the training but over time we developed teams of trainers and I then was able to take a back seat on training, and so it's been fun for me to be back in the teaching role and hands-on. I'm going to call these three dolls Elsa, Ruby and Emily.
We were delighted this week to open a new preschool alongside one of the Hathay Bunano production centres in Sirajganj. The school has been funded by Danny Whiteside, a teacher from the UK who raised money through long distance cycling. Danny came to visit and volunteer with HBPS a few years ago and has stayed in touch ever since. With his generous donation we were able to arrange to rent a building from the local community alongside our existing production centre, to repair the building and then buy all the necessary books and supplies for the school including the lovely tables and chairs. Danny's donation also partially pays the first years salary for the teacher along with the whole of the first years rent for the building. Thereafter, HBPS will continue to fund the running of the school. The preschool is for children of the women who work with HBPS and they are ages 3 - 6 years and after that we help them get into the local Government schools.
There were so many great photos from the inauguration event that we've put a few of them into a video. I hope you enjoy this as much as we have.
Yesterday morning Golam Morshed, Chairman of Hathay Bunano PS signed an agreement to train an additional 400 women in new centres in Sirajganj to make Pebble products. The training will start on 1st February with the first batch of women starting to make production products from 1st March 2013. We are very excited to be bringing more, much needed, employment to Sirajganj and delighted to be expanding the number of centres that we have there. Sirajganj is a very beautiful part of Bangladesh in an area known as the chars and the women are so capable and hardworking and sincere, it makes teaching and working a joy.
Definitely a good start to 2013. With 400 new artisans coming on board there will be more Pebble products to go around.
Yeasmin is one big story of hope. She has broken down cultural barriers and achieved happiness that she never imagined was possible. Her story is one that will touch your heart and will hopefully inspire many others struggling against prejudice.
Yeasmin is a little more than 3ft tall and 22 years old. She first came to Hathay Bunano when she was 17. She had been living at the Centre for the Rehabilitation for the Paralysed, a truly inspirational NGO doing incredible work for those who are both disabled and poor. In Bangladesh if you are just over 3ft tall then you are considered disabled. Yeasmin lived at home as a child but was taken to live at the CRP when her father died, when she was just 12 years old. She didn't want to live in an institution - she wanted a life. She learnt some vocational sewing skills but there was not enough sewing for her to make any money. Then in 2006 she heard about Hathay Bunano and wanted to learn to crochet. At that time Hathay Bunano were running a training course in the CRP and Yeasmin joined in this.
Whilst the CRP does great work in rehabilitating people for return to the community it cannot be a long term institution for adults. Whilst Yeasmin had lived there for 5 of her childhood years she clearly could not stay there forever and there was concern for her from all those around her about the next step. There were two other ladies, Jolly and Shima, in wheelchairs at the CRP who were also doing crochet work with Hathay Bunano and who also had reached adulthood. At that time we suggested trying the very bold step of setting up a residential room in the Hathay Bunano complex and having Shima, Jolly and Yeasmin both live and work in the complex. Yeasmin, whilst short, was capable of cooking and shopping and would be able to look after the other two ladies. And so they moved in.
This worked well for a year or so until our landlord at that time decided that it was not good for his reputation to have disabled ladies living in his property. I can't explain this in a nice way because there isn't a nice way to explain it. At the time I was horrified by his intention and simply didn't understand it. I remember when we were first told that we would have to leave the complex, feeling nauseous for days. I'm quite stubborn and prepared to fight alongside those who need help and so for a while we chose to stay at the building. We stayed until the landlord turned off the gas connection and deactivated the lift! Clearly it was no longer safe for the disabled ladies to be in the building and so we set about moving.
We found a new building in its own grounds and thought that this would be secure for our work and the disabled ladies. We had been moved into this building for one day when the new landlord came to visit and told my husband and I that he didn't want disabled ladies in his building. I'd become more immune to this attitude in the passing years but still it was a huge blow. We had only just moved. It wasn't possible to move the whole office again and so we needed to find a new solution.
My husband's family have a property in a village area about 1 hours drive out of Dhaka and so we discussed with Yeasmin, Shima and Jolly and agreed that they would move to the village and would live and work there. Yeasmin, along with the house caretaker would look after Shima and Jolly. And so they moved to Sonargoan and lived very happily for three years. In fact so happily that Yeasmin met a male friend, Hamid, while living in Sonargoan. They fell in love and married. He didn't see her disability. He saw only her lovely smile and sunny personality, that she was capable and strong and had a secure and well paid job.
And the story continues.... Yeasmin and Hamid had a beautiful baby boy who is not disabled in any way. Yeasmin, Hamid and baby now live in a house close to the current Hathay Bunano head office, where Yeasmin currently works while her baby is in the creche, and her husband has secured work in the construction industry. Yeasmin couldn't be happier. She earns enough to care for her family, her husband also earns and they have a savings plan. Yeasmin is organised and determined as ever and is already making plans already for her baby's education and future.
It is almost unheard of for poor disabled women to marry and have children in Bangladesh. A real story of hope against adversity. We are all so happy to see Yeasmin live her life to the full and provide a great role model and beacon of hope to the disabled in developing countries around the world.
The latest Pebble catalogue is now available in audio slideshow format. All the fun of Pebble toys with music attached. There's some lovely new products in this catalogue including a range of 3 smiley caterpillar rattles. These are easy for little hands to hold and shake and sure to be a hit. There's also a whole new range of hats with earflaps which we think you'll like a lot. Pebble hats is a new venture for us and will be growing over coming seasons. You've all really liked our rainbow hats in bright colours, pastels and organic shades and now this is extended with 6 new hats with trendy earflaps. This catalogue also marks an addition to the Once upon a time range with a new storybook which will be available for free with all once upon a time characters. We think that this really makes a complete product and also now a lovely gift. I'll blog separately on the storybook so you can see more of it.
We really hope you enjoy this video. It's embedded here but also available on youTube.
We've just introduced video as a way of training and learning new products and patterns and we're very excited about it. In the picture Nasima is following the video that I made explaining how to make the new hat pattern that we are sampling. The samplers have all been following videos this week and their feedback is really positive saying that it makes it much easier to learn new patterns than just having written instructions and diagrams.
I'm making videos now for new items as we come up with new designs and the samplers will soon start to make videos of our regular items and techniques with a view to taking these out with them to the rural centres when they go out for training and revision purposes. I'm excited to get these videos out to our rural centres. I've been told that the $100 laptop project is starting here and that could potentially make it possible to see laptops in our rural centres. I'm excited about the idea of the supervisors being able to watch instructions for products when they need a little revision or just to help them remember specifics and I think it will be much easier for them than the written instructions and diagrams we currently use alone.
It's early days but the use of video in our work has huge potential. Keep your eye on the blog and I'll blog it as we go.
Congratulations to Taslima on the birth of Habib. Habib is now three months old and comes to the creche at the Hathay Bunano head office everyday with his mother Taslima. Taslima started working with Hathay Bunano in May 2007 when we first started to work in Notun Bazar and set up the urban production centre there with the financial help of Charles Voegele. Taslima came for training and was determined to learn and to improve her life. As a child she had wanted to be a doctor but she had left school early because her family were poor and couldn't afford to send her. When she started working with us in 2007 her daughter was 2 years old and came to the creche and Taslima was very clear that since she didn't have the opportunity to become a doctor then she wanted to educate her daughter and for her to become a doctor.
In 2008 Taslima was promoted and become a salaried supervisor at the Notun Bazar urban production centre where she continued to work well and excel at her work and then in 2010 she was promoted again to the sample section in the main Head Office. She continues to work as sampler and also trainer and is a very highly valued member of our staff.
Her daughter, Habiba, is now 6 years old and attends a local primary school.
When Taslima first joined Hathay Bunano we made a case study of her situation. She was living in a room 8ft x 8ft with her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law, her husband's younger sister and her baby Habiba. The room had no facilities and they shared a water pipe outside with 80 other people which was turned on for 2 hours each day. They shared 4 gas burners with the 80 other people in the cluster and 1 toilet. She was living a precarious life in poverty. At that time her husband was a rickshaw puller but his work was infrequent and he was depressed at the situation of his family.
Now Taslima lives with her husband and two children in a room in a brick multi-storey building with its own attached toilet, bathroom and kitchen, with running water. Her husband also now has hope and works as a security guard. Last year they took out a loan to buy furniture for their new home and this has already been repaid and now they are able to save 1000tk (about $14) per month into a local cooperative society. Taslima and her husband happily tell us that 'We will make our daughter a doctor and our son an engineer. Our savings will help us to fill our dream.'
Taslima tells us that she is happy because her baby is able to come to work with her and this enables her to be able to work knowing that he is well cared for and she is close at hand.
Pebble toys are made in Bangladesh. But lots of things are made in Bangladesh. Just take a look in your own wardrobe and you'll probably find lots of items from international brands that were made here. Now the garments industry has lots of problems but I don't want to dwell on that in this blog. Regardless of the problems, the pay and conditions, the alleged exploitation, the forced overtime, the bottom line is that the garments are made by very talented and hard working young women from Bangladesh. At Pebble we wanted to celebrate how great the women of Bangladesh are at making things and so we made a range of animals from Bangladesh.
The most obvious is the Bengal tiger, well known throughout the world and a truly majestic animal. He's found here in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. Our version is rather a cute interpretation with a smiley face who has just this week found fame on huge banners at the Top Drawer London Autumn 2011 trade show trade show as the logo for the children's section. We've also made a gecko and whilst these are prevalent all over South East Asia, the version of the Tokay Gecko that we've made is coloured just as we find them here in our houses and know that they are around from the periodic tic-tic-tic noise that they make. We made an otter in this series as well because otters are just so cute and are less frequently made into children's toys. In the south of Bangladesh they are often used for fishing. The fishermen will attach a lead to the otter and then the otter will dive and catch the fish and bring them back to the fishermen.
The whole range was designed by the wonderful designer Kimberley Walling and we've added a little Bangladeshi flag to the tail of each one and with this they proudly tell you - we're made in Bangladesh. The women working with Hathay Bunano and making the Pebble toys are talented, diligent and hard working; they make gorgeous toys every day and we're really happy that this range flies the flag for Bangladesh.
The www.amazon.co.uk warehouse are making some changes to the way they hold stock and the cost for holding stock and fulfillment etc and as such we need to clear some stock. None of the items in the sale are discontinued and once the sale is over we will continue to sell them at regular price so this is a really great opportunity to buy current Pebble Toys at a huge discount.
There's some really great bargains with up to 51% off, but not many pieces so first come first served on these super offers. Here's a few links to them:
There's only a few left so hurry x
I've posted information on this blog about artisans who work with Hathay Bunano but I thought that since we are currently setting up new centres in Sirajganj it would be interesting to blog about a lady who is not yet working with Hathay Bunano, who has just started a training course, so that we can see her life now and then follow up on her story in 6 months and a years time and see how things have changed for her.
When blogging for Hathay Bunano I generally like to focus on stories that are positive and its easy to overlook sometimes the difficult circumstances that women are in before they start to work with Hathay Bunano and the types of opportunities or lack of opportunities that are available in the village before the Hathay Bunano production centre sets up there.
Asma Akter is a very energetic women who is 36 years old. She was married at the age of 11 and describes that since then to this day, her life has been very difficult. She has 2 daughters and 2 sons. Her eldest daughter was married 2 years ago but because Asma and her husband are so poor they were not able to give any gift or asset at the time of marriage as is the custom in Bangladesh. As such, they are now under regular pressure from their son-in-law to provide financial support.
Asma and her family live in Sarkarpara Adarsha village in Kalihoripur in Sirajganj. This small village was established by the Government of Bangladesh 15 years ago for the extreme poor and landless. Much of Sirajganj is char islands which are regularly eroded by the river and the monsoon and where families can lose their land when the char is swept away in the currents. Asma and her family live in a tiny house in the village made with bamboo and reeds which is about 14 feet long by 6 feet wide.
Asma's husband is a rickshaw puller but suffers from heart disease and so much of the time he is no longer able to do this very strenuous job and there are no alternatives in the village. Currently Asma works from her home preparing covers for cigarettes. If she makes 2000 cigarette covers in a day then she will earn 10tk (about USD0.13). Doing this job in a month working full time she may earn 400tk (about USD8). Of course it's all relative to the cost of necessities in a country but in Bangladesh a kilo of rice, the staple food here, is about 40 tk and then you can see that this tiny amount is nowhere near enough to feed the family let alone provide for anything else.
In dreaming about the future, Asma hopes that by learning to crochet and working with Hathay Bunano, she will be able to send her younger two children to school and that she will be able to support her family. In living such a difficult life for so long I suspect that Asma's dreams have shrunk in line with what she sees as being hopefully possible.
Certainly I would like to add a few more dreams to her very short list. I would like to see her upgrading her home, not necessarily in size but certainly in the materials in which its built and giving her a little more security. The current construction is little protection against the monsoon and I'd like to see her able to replace the mud floor with a cement floor that is raised and protected against flooding. I'd like to see the reed matted walls replaced with corrugated tin walls and the bamboo posts replaced with concrete ones cemented into the floor. I'd like to see Asma and her family in a home that doesn't look like it will be washed away in the first rains of the monsoon. And then I'd like to see her able to feed her family sufficiently so that they do not go hungry. Living as I do in Bangladesh, I know that the monthly income she has is nowhere near enough to support the family. In fact, this is something I've written about in the past. If you check out the Clearly So Bangladesh blog that I wrote a couple of years ago and then scroll down to the first comment you'll see that I've included in there a daily income and expenditure analysis for a rickshaw puller (ClearlySo Blog Bangladesh). As you can see 400tk per month doesn't go far at all. Of course, I share her dream to see her children go to school and would also like to see her with some savings for a rainy day. It then becomes a long list of items which all need to be prioritised as number 1.
So initially, I'm looking forward to seeing Asma complete her crochet training and then to start working with Hathay Bunano and I hope to revisit this case study in some months time and to report how the dreams on her list are steadily being achieved through her own hard work and determination and with just a little bit of opportunity from Hathay Bunano.