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10th July 2011

A new trainee – Asma

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.


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