About the Artisans
I traveled to Bangladesh (read the travel blog here) to learn about the Fair Trade practices of papermaking workshops in rural Bangladesh. There I met a host of women from seven different workshops who are mobilizing to overcome poverty and detrimental cultural systems. For various reasons these paper artisans are the sole providers for their families. Coming in with few assets, skills, or work experience, they have mastered their craft and are proud to bring it to market. Here are a few stories of these inspiring women.
Hajera was eleven when, as is the custom in poor families, her widowed mother eased the burden of providing for a large family by arranging a marriage for her eldest daughter. He was seventy years old and soon unable to work. This left a very young Hajera responsible to provide for their family of four small children. From her earnings making paper, journals and cards she has been able to provide food and education for all her children. With her extra dividend earnings (artisans have shares their company) she was able to purchase a plot of land and cultivate rice. When I asked Hajera if she had a message for me to bring back to the United States she said “Send us more orders!”
Shifali’s life in rural Bangladesh is similar to Hajera. It is not easy, but her job and co-workers provide a creative challenge that she loves. A leader in her community of women, Shifali represents the artisans in a self governed “Producers’ Management Committee” (PMC) that communicates and addresses the personal and professional needs of the women. She travels to the paper workshops in other parts of the country to meet with her fellow PMC reps. Together they solve problems and develop ideas for constant improvement.
Deepa is an engineer by training and the most passionate and compassionate of nuturers. After working with the paper makers to design and build several industrial sized pieces of paper making equipment she went on to tackle a problem even more serious than poverty—human sex trafficking. Read more about her Sacred Mark program here.
Suraiya is a professional artist. Not far below the surface of her gentle demeanor is a fiery champion of women’s rights. Our guide introduced her to us as “the heart” of this community. Suraiya is at the forefront of creative operations and quality control. This assures me that Sustain & Heal can count on receiving a top notch product that was made by artisans who are treated with dignity and respect. Read more about Suraiya here.