Bangladesh Artisans

Most of the makers we work with are women, and most of those women are mothers. With Mother’s Day approaching here in Canada, we just had to tell these stories. Each one shows the resilience and exceptionalism of the maker mothers of fair trade.

Every day, as we unpack, sort, ship, shelve and gift beautiful fair trade products, we think about the hundreds of amazing women who have turned a handicraft into a livelihood, and a livelihood into a future.

Tamil Arasi, maker with Blue Mango, India:

 “My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse.”

“I joined Blue Mango in 2009 after my husband died of a heart attack.  I was at a loss about what to do. How would I support my children? I had worked as a health worker part -time in the past, but decided to come to Blue Mango instead because of the support they provided for me as a widow, and the steady work. I like it here because it’s friendly and I can forget my troubles. My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse. My son is in 12th grade and he wants to be a policeman. I don’t like that idea because I don’t want him to get hurt. I’d rather he was safe behind a desk at a government job!”

Rawshan Ara, maker with Prokritee, Bangladesh

“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids.”

“Before joining Shuktara, I had no source of income and struggled to provide the basic needs of my family. Back then I wasn’t able to send my kids to school. I was leading a hopeless life.”

“At the very beginning of my career here, I received a three-month on-the-job training on making handmade paper products. Later, I received more lessons from the design team of Prokritee.”

“Now, I am able to earn and provide the basic needs for my family, and send my kids to school. I also learned that I enjoy making handicraft products.”

“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids. I want them to get higher education. I also want to own a land and a house of my own. To me, fair trade means getting fair wages to support my family, working in a peaceful environment, and living with dignity.”

Rajakumari, maker with Blue Mango, India:

“People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity.”

“In 2000, when Blue Mango started in a tiny shed, I was one of the first 4 women to join. After some time, the program expanded to the point where Tamar madam needed help and in 2005, I was offered the position of Supervisor. Although the job is stimulating, I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of running a program of 55 women especially since I only have 8th grade education.”

“Several years ago, my husband collapsed on the road from a stroke. At that time, my son Pradeep was fifteen and my daughter Jeyanthi was ten.  People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity. I could see that the only way to raise my kids was to continue to work at Blue Mango and build a new life for us.”

“Thanks to Blue Mango, I was able to raise my children on my own. My son has a computer job in a company and my daughter has graduated and is a school teacher. Nobody from my family has ever gone to college. I don’t have to depend on my father, I don’t have to depend on my brothers, and I won’t have to depend on my son. I have pension and savings, and does that ever feel good! My neighbors have never seen an independent widow before.”

“Because of my story, new women immediately learn that Blue Mango is not a charity, but a place where women develop financial strength and pride through perseverance and hard work.”

 

cheeky-monkeyWeekday mornings at my house can be quite crazy! One of the most common discussions (and, might I say, whining?) surrounds the topic of what my children will eat for breakfast.

The dilemma isn’t what we have in the house to eat. Quite the contrary! The problem is deciding what they would like to select from the multiple options available to them.

8600465534_0cdaf87863_z (3)As part of the “What I Want My Daughter to Know” series, I’m sharing on behalf of Ten Thousand Villages today – and thrilled for the opportunity to share my heart on what I want my daughter to know about fair trade.

Child, these days we’re doing our best to teach you to play with others. You’re pretty good for your twenty-six months of experience, but playtime is often a losing battle when combining multiple two-year-olds and a room full of toys. Regardless of what you already have in your hand, it always seems that what your friend has is what you want. There are howls and tears and pinching and chaos when the situation seems unfair. Even we adults can be so embarrassingly loud, pitching fits when we feel that life isn’t fair to us.

artisan-rafia-nasir-s72I sit beside Rafia Nasir on the loom, where she works on a 6’ x 9’ Persian rug with her two sisters.

Rafia is a new mom, just like I am. She holds her nearly eight-month-old little girl, letting her grab at the taut warp threads as she takes a break from her work. Rafia chuckles as I have to run and change my son’s diaper, tossing him down on her charpai – a rope bed, in the middle of her home – and asking if she minds if I change him there. It’s my son’s first trip to the villages of Pakistan. And at age two, he’s taking it all in, including the chicken running into the house from the outside courtyard.

Soccer BallThis coming Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’m feeling a little sentimental.

I don’t generally get excited about holidays – but for some reason, this year feels different.

My father has been experiencing some health issues, so I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the many happy memories I have of my childhood. For example, when the Toronto Blue Jays made it to the World Series, he was that Dad who bought the maximum number of tickets you were allowed to purchase. My sister and I invited a bunch of our friends to join us for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget.

Back-to-school pictureI suspect my children aren’t the only ones who’ve started counting down the days until summer break! And at this time of year, as the school year winds down, I find myself in a reflective mood.

In Canada, we take for granted every child’s right to a good education. Wherever we live, we expect our kids to get grounded in the basics they’ll need to thrive as adults, and to provide the tools they need if they choose to go on to post-secondary education.

Through my experience meeting some of Ten Thousand Villages’ talented artisan partners, I have been exposed to regions of the world where “education for all” is anything but the norm. One situation that comes immediately to mind is Nepal, where boys are much more likely than girls to have the opportunity to attend school.

1-Boys and bowlAfter moments of less-than-stellar parenting, I will often quip, “There goes my Mother of the Year Award!”

But with Mother’s Day approaching, it always gives me pause to think about how I am doing as a Mom. Are my boys happy? How healthy are they? They look clean, but where’s that smell coming from? Do they laugh enough? Am I teaching them what it means to be socially responsible people? Are they learning the importance of generosity? Are they compassionate?