Saturday, July 24, 2010

Letter from Siham Craftlink - A Fair Trade Journey

The YWCA Bangladesh is very dear to my heart. Many of the staff are my personal friends, and I admire greatly the work that the YWCA does in Bangladesh. They have a very holistic caring programme, reaching out in many ways to the poor and oppressed. The making of craft is one of the ways that the disadvantaged women are able to earn a much needed income. I have been privileged to work with the YWCA Bangladesh for over 15 years.  

 Visiting different homes Kalijong Village

During my visit in February, there was great excitement because prior to my visit, I had submitted a sizeable order. As I am attending the Melbourne Trade Fair this year, I needed to think way in advance as to what I will be showcasing. It was so exciting as we visited the different YWCA centres (in Dhaka, Savar Village and Kalijong Village) seeing the ladies making those ever popular hand puppets and yes (hopefully) many will be filling orders for customers from the trade fair.
Welcome to Kalijong Village

The Craft Centre started in 1973 with sixteen women. 2184 ladies have been trained since then. Presently there are 450 ladies making their craft for the YWCA and yes, they rely very heavily on the Australian market.

Today I am going to share about the ladies in Kalijong Village, which is about 30 kms out of the heart of Dhaka., the capital of Bangladesh. This craft centre was set up in this village because previously the women were travelling daily by bus and rickshaw into the YWCA Dhaka Craft Centre to do their craft work. Dhaka roads are not like Australian roads- they are absolute mayhem , with no apparent road rules. Cars and rusty old buses weave in and around rickshaws. I don’t know how many times we experienced near accidents and how many times we sighed with relief! Bengali people seem to take it in their stride, but for us it was a completely different story.

At Kalijong Village, we had the joy of walking around visiting the little homes and seeing the ladies working. Many were sitting on grass mats outside their tin and thatched homes. With needle and thread they were working their magic, handstitching very carefully the crocodile and zebra hand puppets. Some of the ladies were working in pairs, (no doubt a good time to chat too), often with their small children beside them. Some were working individually.

                                                      Mother and son Kalijong Village

The day we visited, routine life continued in Kalijong Village. Some ladies were cooking their midday meals . Dried cow dung is used as fuel in the small underground clay ovens. Chickens were running around. The village cow looked very contented. Children, always inquisitive of the Australian Aussies, were laughing and skipping as we walked around the village.

At Kalijong Village, the YWCA have built a small work centre which comprises two rooms. It is made of cement with open areas in the walls to suffice as windows. In one of these rooms are the treadle sewing machines. After the completion of the hand embroidery and hand appliqué many of these items are completed on these machines. The other small room is where the ladies can sit together to do their sewing if they so wish. The day we were there this didn’t happen because we were taking up their space! Also this day two nurses visited and were using one of the rooms. Anyone can visit the nurses. This service is paid for by the YWCA. Blood pressures were being taken, advice was being given and tablets were dispensed! The nurses visit monthly. 

                                                 Treadle sewing machines in the workroom
The ladies are paid monthly by the YWCA. Payment is for each piece, depending on the capability/ skill of the artisan. As an incentive the best producers are given a cash bonus. Each craft item has the producers name hand stitched on paper to the item. When orders are completed, they are then bundled up in bags and taken to the main Craft Centre in Dhaka for quality checking. The name is removed if quality is satisfactory. If not, the article is returned to the producer.

The objectives of the Craft Centre is to provide skill training and an income to the needy women, many whom are illiterate or destitute and hence have no other means to support themselves and their families. I feel very privileged having worked so closely with the staff, the designers and the artisans of the YWCA for so many years.

Pam McGann
Director Siham Craftlink Pty Ltd.

Photos and story provided courtesy of Siham Craftlink

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