Prokritee

Prokritee (meaning “nature” in Bengali) manages several handicraft enterprises and helps other groups sell their products in local and foreign markets. Prokritee and its enterprises provide jobs for poor rural women.By providing jobs for women, Prokritee improves women’s standard of living and helps them send their children to school.


The organization provides skills development training to artisans. Prokritee creates and promotes income–generating projects that benefit the artisans, adhere to good safety and environmental standards, and have the potential to become self–reliant. Prokritee was established in 2001 as an independent organization. Ten Thousand Villages has purchased products from Prokritee and its predecessor MCC Bangladesh since 1986.


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Partners for Growth

Ideal Step for Sustainable Development (ISSD) is a workshop in Bangladesh that is supported by Prokritee, an artisan organization working with rural artisans, and the job creation program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Bangladesh. Since Ten Thousand Villages began purchasing from ISSD, sales have more than doubled for the organization.



ISSD’s current success has grown out of an intensive intervention on the part of MCC and Prokritee, following a troubled period in the group’s history. Previously the workshop, based in the northern Bangladesh community of Mymensingh, was part of Ideas International. The artisans’ products were marketed through Ideas’ retail outlet in an upscale neighborhood of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Suddenly in 2000, due to a management crisis that resulted in the expatriate director leaving Bangladesh, ISSD was left with considerable debt and no clear way to move forward.



Artisans and staff of ISSD came to MCC Bangladesh asking for help. “The artisans had a high level of technical skill, and picked up new ideas quickly,” recalled Jerry Shank, MCC country representative from 2005 to 2007. “This made them a good candidate for assistance from the job creation program. What they lacked was business capacity.”



“ISSD was the production unit of Ideas International located nearest to needy rural and poor producers, and thus it was outside of Dhaka and far from markets,” said Iqbal Hossein, MCC job creation administrator. This was another factor in MCC’s interest in assisting the group.



MCC’s role was to walk alongside the group, to help them get “back on their feet,” said Shank. “It was basically organizational consulting. We helped ISSD to get out of their debt, using strict guidelines, helped them to re-negotiate their lease, and advised the group on re-staffing to meet their actual needs.” These efforts were followed by product and market development, part of which has involved the link with Prokritee, through which Ten Thousand Villages purchases ISSD products.



MCC also brought on an expatriate designer, who spent considerable time with ISSD artisans. “The artisans were very skilled in paper mâché technique, for example, but what they needed were product ideas,” Shank explained.



“We’ve seen dramatic changes with this group,” said Shank, adding his hope that ISSD will continue to grow and to benefit artisans in Mymensingh.



Binode Manda, ISSD executive director, explained, “Needy men and women are getting a job because of the ISSD program. Widows, divorced, physically handicapped and tribal women from needy families are our target for the project. ISSD appreciates the partnership between MCC Bangladesh to help provide design assistance and technical advice as per the demand of the present market trends. We look forward to a long lasting partnership between MCC Bangladesh, Prokritee and Ten Thousand Villages to assist artisans in marginalized situations.”

Aid for Cyclone Survivors

Cyclone Sidr tore into Bangladesh’s southwestern coast on November 15, 2007, affecting millions of people. Powerful winds swept in from the Bay of Bengal, creating a surge of water that rolled up rivers and canals, deep into the countryside. The worst cyclone in more than a decade, it left an estimated 3,400 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Crops were destroyed and livestock swept away.



Four enterprises of artisan group Prokritee, in Agailjhara District, were badly affected by the cyclone. Prokritee is an artisan organization that sells hemp, keya palm and handmade paper products to Ten Thousand Villages. All of the artisans who work at Bagdha Enterprise (hemp products), Biborton (handmade paper), Joberpar (handmade paper) and Keya Palm Handicrafts (keya palm products) suffered some losses. S.M. Sajid, executive director of Prokritee, reports that the husbands of two artisans were killed by falling trees. More than 400 artisan families suffered damaged or destroyed houses. In addition, most of the artisans lost trees on their property and fish that they were raising in ponds.



Ten Thousand Villages in the United States and Canada has contributed $93,000 to a relief response led by Prokritee and Mennonite Central Committee in Agailjhara district. Most of the money will be used to help artisan families to reconstruct their houses. A new house is estimated to cost $320.



Sajid emphasized that continued orders for products will be crucial over the next few months, and even years, since artisans and their families will need steady income to help them rebuild their homes, properties and livestock.



Other artisan organizations in Bangladesh, CORR-The Jute Works, HEED Handicrafts, YWCA, Jahanara Cottage Industries, and others, all report that they too are involved in cyclone relief work.



Mennonite Central Committee, Ten Thousand Villages parent organization, has committed $500,000 to cyclone relief. This included providing food for 10,000 families for one month immediately after the cyclone and for building 1,250 houses for families who lost their homes in other areas of Bangladesh.

A Great Investment

Snehorani Halder is an artisan working with Jobarpar Enterprise, a handmade paper workshop of Prokritee, an artisan group based in Barisal, Bangladesh. Jobarpar produces greeting cards, ornaments and other handmade paper items sold in Ten Thousand Villages stores.



The adult literacy rate in Bangladesh is 41 percent. Because of this low number, especially among girls, the government implemented free education for girls in rural areas until 6th grade. Halder, the daughter of a poor farmer, went to school until the age of 10. Even though school is free for girls, many are taken out because they are needed at home. Halder dropped out of school to help her mother with the daily tasks of cleaning, cooking and taking care of her five younger sisters.



When Halder was 16, her parents arranged her marriage to a neighboring farmer. She is now 30 years old with three growing boys. She is very proud of her boys and wants them to attend university.



Six years ago, Halder’s husband became very ill and was unable to work in the rice fields. With no source of income, she needed to find work. Fortunately for Halder, Jobarpar Enterprise selectively hires poor and widowed women to make handmade paper. She has now been working at Jobarpar for five years.



Halder is an innovative woman. This year she received a 5,000 taka loan (approximately $70) from Jobarpar and bought a cow. A cow is a great investment because it generates both food and additional money. Not only does Halder’s family drink the cow’s milk, but she is also able to sell some milk in the market. She also makes fuel patties with the cow dung, which saves a lot of money because she does not need to buy or scavenge for wood to use in her clay stove.



Halder is very thankful to be working for Jobarpar, and hopes to continue to produce wonderful products for Prokritee.



Excerpted from Prokritee’s 2005-06 Annual Report

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