Saturday, March 13, 2010

Letter from Siham Craftlink - Keya Palm Handicrafts Story

With rice fields surrounding and a winding river nearby, we visited the Keya Palm Group situated in the tranquil area of Barisal in south western Bangladesh. To visit this area required approximately seven hours travelling from Dhaka the capital. 

Tranquil surrounds at Keya Palm Group

Because of the distance we were fortunate to stay in the Prokritee "Guest House" nearby overnight. How do you describe the Guest House- well, rather rustic and quaint.

Certainly a challenge climbing the stairs (more like a ladder) to reach the loft where we slept. The little dwelling is situated next to the river (which is very low at present awaiting the wet season) but separated from the river by a little dirt road/ track.

We were awakened in the morning hearing the first sounds of village life. The few rickshaw carts rattling by, the roosters crowing, the occasional motor bike, the laughter of children and the chatter between people as the day began.

The Keya Palm Handicrafts Group commenced in 1987 with seven women. Today there are 50 permanent producers and 20 part time producers. Of course the number of people employed at any one time depends on the orders received. I was told that last year was a very difficult year in this sense.

The head speaker from this group said that when some women joined that they hadn't eaten for three days. Now because of their work , they can feed their families properly, can educate their children and wear clean clothes. The smiles on their faces said it all.

I often wondered how this group had access to the raw material (palm leaf) during the wet season. My answer was in front of me.. The palm leaves are dried in the sun for three to four days. There was storage for the dried palm leaves in two small tin sheds in the complex outside the main room where the women were busily working. Also at the back of the main work room is another little thatched hut where the dyeing is done.

Palm leaf storage for wet season

Alojoydhar, the dyeing specialist happily and proudly appeared to have her photo taken by the big vat where the palm leaf is boiled in the coloured mix.

Alojoydhar the dyeing specialist

Only AZO free dyes tested by the European market are used. Any "scraps"of palm leaves is used to fuel the fire. There was also a big mound of wood to be used for heating the fire. This wood has been collected before the rainy season. The wood is sustainable, being approved by the Forestry Department in Bangladesh. Every year the trees are replanted.

Palm tree

Sustainable wood used for fire in dyeing process

However inside the large room is where all the activity was taking place. About thirty women sitting on palm leaf mats were busily making little jewellery boxes for an Italian buyer. Watching these ladies quietly but busily weaving the baskets was enthralling. Their foot, hand and eye co-ordination wonderful to see. 

 Producer weaving a jewellery box

Skilled hands and feet

There were bowls of water sitting on the floor. This is to wet the cut palm leaf strips to make it more flexible and easier to weave. The ladies are paid per piece ( different amounts apply here for different types of work depending on the complexity of the item) as well as a base rate per month. The ladies can weave approximately three small boxes per day.

Making a star

The ladies are extremely thankful to have palm leaf work. However their lives are certainly not easy. One lady that I spoke to (through an interpreter) starts her day at 4 a.m. with morning prayer. There is then cooking and cleaning to be organized before she starts her 3 km walk to the Keya Palm Centre. At days end, she then walks the 3kms back to her village.

I was very impressed to see a beautiful large vegetable garden thriving at the entrance to the compound. The ladies when not busy weaving beautiful items tend the garden patch so that they can have fresh vegetables for their family. At this centre there is also classes for the illiterate.

We left the Keya Palm Handicrafts group feeling so inspired. When leaving , some of the ladies shared their joy and happiness to be making items for the Australian market. Oh and yes! they were also very eager to share with us that with continued orders and support, the joyful positive impact that this has on their lives.

Pam McGann

Siham Craftlink 11/3/2010

Photos have been provided courtesy of Siham Craftlink. Please visit

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