Adventures in India and Bangladesh (Part One)

We’ve been tweeting and posting updates on what the the Ten Thousand Villages Learning Group, which includes our very own Store Manager Kitty Bird, has been doing and who they have been meeting throughout their adventures in India. Today, however, we are offering you a more in depth look at their adventures. We don’t want to steal Kitty’s thunder for when she comes back, so we’ve just chosen a few highlights…

Since one of the key principles of Fair Trade is to maintain long-term relationships, it is so great to hear about the Learning Tour Group making connections with artisans and other Fair Trade agencies in India and Bangladesh we partner with. Kitty shared this brief anecdote with us,

“‘Send us more orders!’-That is what the artisans are saying…after they welcome us with songs and garlands of thankfulness, they never let us leave without asking for more work.”

Here is some more information on some of the artisan groups the Learning Tour group met with during their time in India and Bangladesh.

Prokritee

Prokritee (meaning “nature” in Bangla) is a service based agency that provides managerial, product design and development and marketing assistance to organizations in Bangladesh. Prokritee manages eight Handicraft Enterprises and helps other groups to sell their products in local and foreign markets upholding Fair Trade standards.  Prokritee and these eight enterprises focus on providing jobs for poor rural women. The women who work for the enterprises are widows, divorcees or head-of-households with little or no income. By providing jobs for women, Prokritee is able to improve the women’s standard of living and help them send their children to school.  Below are Prokritee’s primary goals as an agency:

Income-Generating Projects
Creating, promoting and assisting income-generating projects that:

  • are operated and managed to benefit the producers
  • adhere to good safety and environmental standards
  • are or have the potential to become self reliant

Women’s Employment
Hiring Women employees who:

  • are head-of-households (widows, divorcees, or separated)
  • have little, if any income
  • are landless with few or no assets
  • are primarily rural

Skills Development
Providing training to increase the skills of personnel within income-generating enterprises.

(Paraphrased from Prokritee’s home page)

Here is a post from Ten Thousand Village’s Facebook page with some more details on what the group did with Prokritee members:

“Learning Tour, Feb 13, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Tonight we went out to dinner with Prokritee and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) people at the Santoor restaurant in Dhanmondi (suburb of Dhaka). We enjoyed good food and good company on our last night in Bangladesh. Tomorrow we will visit MCC to learn about their agriculture, job creation and other programs in Bangladesh. We’ll also visit the Source, the Prokritee retail store, for some last minute shopping before heading out to the airport to catch our 4 pm flight to Kolkata (Calcutta), India.”

Hajiganj Kaisa Basket

Hajiganj Baskets is the artisan group that makes our popular kaisa grass baskets.  This group works with marginalized people in Bangladesh’s Nilphamari District. The group is located in one of the poorest areas in Bangladesh, where people are mostly dependent on hiring out to rich farmers who pay very low wages. Benefits to artisans include profit distribution, a producer security fund, medical allowance and skill development.  Hajiganj was established in 1998 in the village of the same name, in northwestern Bangladesh.  Ten Thousand Villages has been working with the group since 2000. Below are some picture of members of the Learning Group with artisans from Hajiganj. (Paraphrased from the Ten Thousand Villages website.)

Facebook caption: “After a wonderful picnic lunch under a big shamiana, we all posed for a happy group picture.”

Facebook caption: “Ron got some personal coaching on how to make a kaisa grass basket. He was a slow learner.”

Saidpur Enterprises

“An artisan from Eastern Screen Printers washes out the light sensitive mixture from the screen in order to brush ink over it and press a design into the paper.  Each card from Eastern Screen Printers is lovingly made by hand from these amazingly talented women.”

Saidpur has two subsidiary groups, Eastern Screen Printers and Action Bag, both of which the Learning Tour group spent time with.  This organization is located in northern Bangladesh and employs women.  Some have husbands who are underemployed; others are widowed. Action Bag provides literacy classes, and training on nutrition, women’s legal rights, educational awareness and finance. Women are encouraged to raise livestock to provide alternative sources of cash income and to supplement their families’ protein intake. (Paraphrased from the Ten Thousand Villages website.)

Although the main focus of the trip was to spend time with Ten Thousand Village’s amazing artisan partners, the group deserved to have a little fun too. Here are some pictures and little information on some of the landmarks the group visited…

Kantajir Temple

Kantajir Temple was built in the 16th century by MaharajaPran Nath of Dinajpur as a Hindu religious monument.  Although much of the architecture was destroyed during an earthquake in 1897, what remains today is still an incredible sight to see.

What is probably most incredible are the terracotta carvings that cover the entire surface of the temple, such as the one picture to the right

(Paraphrased from parjatan.gov and bangladesh.com)

Taj Mahal

Last but not least, the Learning Tour group was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal.  Although most of you probably already know the story of the Taj Mahal, as it is quite famous, here is a brief refresher…

In 1607, emperor Shah Jahan was strolling down the Meena Bazaar, saw out of the corner of his eye a girl selling silk and glass beads. The story goes that it was love at first sight. This girls name was Arjumand Banu Begum.  At that time, he was 14 years old and she, a Muslim Persian princess, was 15. After meeting her, Shah Jahan went back to his father and declared that he wanted to marry her. The match got solemnized after five years.

It was in the year 1628 that Shah Jahan became the Emperor and entrusted Arjumand Banu with the royal seal. He also bestowed her with the title of Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. Though Shah Jahan had other wives also, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite. However, while giving birth to their fourteenth chile, Mumtaz Mahal tragically dies due to complications.  While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and will build the richest mausoleum over her grave.

It is said that Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years. Sometime after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of erecting the world’s most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved. It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. This magnificent monument came to be known as “Taj Mahal” and now counts amongst the Seven Wonders of the World. (Paraphrased from tajmahal.com)

We hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the sites and groups that surely made the Learning Tour group’s time in India and Bangladesh truly incredible.  Check back soon for more first-hand accounts from Kitty herself!

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