A pioneer in the fair trade movement, Ten Thousand Villages was founded on ethical principles, including a commitment to long-term partnerships with artisan groups. We build lasting relationships with artisan groups, providing consistency and stability that allows makers to plan ahead and improve their quality of life. Our ongoing communication helps us better understand the impact of purchases, employment and income for families and communities over time. Biborton Handmade Paper Project is a workshop of our artisan partner Prokritee in Bangaldesh; Ten Thousand Villages has worked closely with this group since its inception. From personal connection and long-term commitments comes the story of Rina Dewri.
It is the winter of 2001. 28 year-old Rina Dewri has two children and job with Biborton Handmade Paper project in Agailjhara, Bangladesh. In a region prone to flood, drought and cyclones, electricity only became available in the early 1990s. Even as the infrastructure improves, jobs are scarce and there are far fewer employment opportunities for men than women. It is a vulnerable community.
“I want to work here for a long time. This is my hope and dream.”
Birborton Handmade Paper project was established by Mennonite Central Committee to provide income for women heads of household, who are widowed or separated and without land or other assets in this rural area. Though Rina is married, her husband’s job prospects were so dim, and their finances so critical, she qualified for Biborton’s program.
Simple new technology has given these women a way to create paper from water hyacinth, an invasive weed that clogs the many canals and ponds in Southern Bangladesh. Biborton creates high quality products and develops new designs to meet the high demand for handmade paper goods. The workshop is thriving. Rina has become skilled at color mixing and dyeing handmade paper. She matches the colors for customers’ orders and creates the samples that guide other artisans.
“From my job, my family’s changed.”
Employment with Biborton helps women provide adequate food for their families—when they otherwise might have skipped their own meals so their children could eat— and to improve their homes, replacing thatched walls with tin structures and wood trim. Their income pays for children’s schooling and builds savings for further education or marriage. Women become more respected as relatives and neighbors see them providing for their families.
Rina and her family are able to eat fish and twice the amount of rice they could afford before she worked Biborton. She has learned that vegetables are important to her family’s nutrition. Two cows provide milk for her family to sell. She and her young daughter wear gold earrings – symbols of financial security that she longed for as child. Rina even purchased a rickshaw for her husband. Now he is able to earn income transporting people or making deliveries, more profitable employment than working as a day laborer.
“I want people to say, ‘Their mother and father suffered poverty. Now their children are doing a better job.’”
Rina only attended school through sixth grade. When she was 13, her parents arranged her marriage. She wants something different for her children – her son, Anjan, age 12, and her daughter, Antara, age 5.
“I want my son to be an educated person and have a better job. If my parents educated me, I could work in an office. I want my daughter to be educated so she can do an important job.”
As mothers, we love our children in the best ways we know how. We give them shelter and strength. We teach them grace and goodness. We nurture their souls. We empower their dreams. We hug them tight each night, and each morning send them to face the day and so much we cannot control.
And one day, we let them go off for good, grown people to make their own way in the world. All we can really do is love, and pray and hope. And there will be many times along the way that will wonder if all we have done is really enough.
“At the end of the day, all I want to see is my kids happy and have prosperous lives. They are my beacon of hope for a better future.”
It is now Winter 2017. Even with two income-earning members in the family, it was a challenge to manage the expenses of sending her children to school in the precarious economy of a developing country. But the Biborton workshop of fair trade organization Prokritee has flourished. Over the past decade and a half, Rina’s hard work was noticed and rewarded by Biborton’s management. She was regularly awarded performance bonuses, and loan programs allowed her to take advances on her salary to pay for school fees.
Today, her son is enrolled in a dental college. Her daughter is working toward the completion of her nursing degree in Dhaka.
We share the story of Rina’s success in honor of every mother who has ever gone about the hard work of love and silently wondered how it will all turn out.