If you’ve had a chance to peruse our selection of cards online this year, you’ve likely noticed a phrase that pops up in many descriptions: “Created using handmade paper.”
Doug Dirks, former Ten Thousand Villages Canada executive director, has seen this transformation firsthand during his numerous trips to the Bagdha-Agailjhara area of southern Bangladesh. A few years ago, he re-visited the Biborton Handmade Paper Project. He wanted to be sure the organization was still living up to its ideals: to hire the area’s most severely disadvantaged people who had no hope of ever finding other employment.
It was on that trip that he met Bella, a Biborton supervisor. Not only was she bringing home more income than a local farm or construction worker, she owned her four-room house and supported seven family members.
That day, as Doug and Bella sat in an office at Biborton, she revealed she was still amazed that her life had taken such a positive turn. When she had arrived on Biborton’s steps year before, she and her toddler son were living under a piece of cardboard and begging in town after her husband abandoned them. Neither his family nor her own would take Bella and her son back in.
Bella’s life changed the day she noticed women from her old (and very poor) neighbourhood walking by wearing brand new saris in bright colours. How did they have the money to buy them? She needed to know.
“We work there,” she told Bella. “And they just got a huge order in for more handmade paper. We need to hire more employees. Why don’t you come and ask for a job?”
Bella wasn’t sure.
“Who would hire me? I can’t read or write,” she remembered thinking at the time.
But with the promise of a good lunch, Bella and her son walked to the factory at the end of a long dirt lane and she had her first ever job interview. It didn’t take long. The manager had three questions for her:
- Could she read and write?
- Had she ever worked before?
- Did she have any family or friends she could turn to if she found herself in need?
Although Bella didn’t know it at the time, because she could truthfully answer no to all three queries, she qualified for the job. Biborton paid her a fair wage – and allowed her son to attend the organization’s daycare too. He’s now grown and an electrician with a future.
“Bella is a success story. Here’s a person who was forced to support herself by begging on the street until she managed to get a job at Biborton. She has furthered her education at night school, can sign her name, and is supporting other people,” Doug says. “That’s what our work with Ten Thousand Villages is all about.”
What’s more, Doug has counted over 50 “dokans,” small businesses, which have popped up close to the factory. When he once asked a shopkeeper why he built his business there, the man told him the women working in the factory had money to spend. He’d be crazy not to!
When sending out handmade paper cards, notebooks or gift boxes, remember women like Bella who handcraft each one. You’re not simply sending greetings to your loved ones here, but spreading hope to families on the other side of the world.