Field Story Details

From mat weaving to bumper crops – Patiya is a village on the move
December 1, 2009
The work that goes in to making the ubiquitous woven mats that cover the floors of Bangladesh in homes and buildings alike is considerable. From beginning to end, pati, or mat weaving is hard work. The cultivation and harvesting cycle requires land, seeds, and labour. Once the pati trees have been harvested, the materials are dried out in the sun until they turn brown. A portion of dried pati leaves are put aside for dying so they can be used to form patterns in the mat design. When all the leaves and preparation work is done, it is time find a shady place out of the sun, get a pail of water and your leaves, and start weaving.

Weaving from left to right, you need to wet your fingers as you go to help smooth own the leaves and slip them tightly into place. Occasionally the edges of the leaves are sharp enough to slice across your hands as you work them into place, creating patterns of small cuts across your fingers. After a long day of weaving, your back and shoulders ache from hours spent hunched over on the hard earth. For the experienced weaver, one mat will take you four days, but if you are just starting out, expect to spend a week making one mat. When the last leaf is woven into place, the mat is added to the pile of finished ones, waiting to be sold at the local market place. Then it is time to start all over again.

This is part of every day life for Fatima, Rezoan, Altaz, and Jobeda, who have each received income generating activity (IGA) training and support from CARE Bangladesh’s Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities (SHOUHARDO) program. As difficult and monotonous as the work can be, the women talk about the positive impact pati making has brought to roshinchor, their small village in the Upazilla of Patiya.

“I take full responsibility for my family’s income now,” says Fatima Begum, “and I save fifty taka a week for the future”. Jobeda Begum’s family is in a similar situation, “My husband died leaving my family with no money. Now I am involved in pati making, and this supports my family,” she says.

In Proshinchor, most of the community is involved in pati production, whether it be through involvement in cultivation of the trees, or in the weaving of the mats themselves. Considering it takes one hundred and fifty trees to make two large or three small mats, producing enough material to support this income generating activity is an intensive process. But it is a process that is paying off.

“I spend 1,700 taka per month on pati making materials, and earn 7,000 taka per month from selling the mats. This has given me enough money to support my family and buy two chickens and two goats,” says Famida Begum.

While the IGA activities have given these women and their families some protection against food insecurity, the SHOUHARDO program does not stop here. With assistance from Bangladesh Institute for The Arts (BITA), a SHOUHARDO partner Non Government Organisation, the community is also part of women’s empowerment, early education, disaster preparedness, comprehensive homestead development and other food security initiatives. With an active Empowering through Knowledge and Transformative Action (EKATA) group, and participation in local governance groups by members of the community including the Village evelopment Committee, and over seven Union Parishad standing committees, this village is becoming well prepared to sustain the progress made through SHOUHARDO funded programs.

A brief tour of Proshinchor village is enough to see how much more is going on. As well as the pati weaving, villagers are supporting their livelihoods through comprehensive homestead development and agricultural activities. Md. Abdul Salam is a productive recipient of agricultural training, and he talks of the bumper crops of tomatoes, green chilis and beans he is expecting. Abdul is just one of thirty people from this village actively using the agricultural skills and training they have received to secure their livelihoods. With twenty people growing chilis, thirty people growing beans, and over twenty five people growing tomatoes, the village is able to sell a large number of crops at the local market for a healthier profit than before thanks to improved farming habits, better access to seeds, and informed crop selection.

A visit to the local Union Parishad (UP) in Patiya only reinforces the hard work being done to improve life for the families living in poverty in the area. With active UP tanding Committees in the areas of: Nari o Shishu Nijaton Protirodh Committee (NNPC), Union Disaster Management Committee, Health, Finance, Union Parishad Education Standing Committee, Law and Order, Fisheries, and Agriculture, local governance is strong and functioning, and there is representation from people at the grass roots level.

In a village of one hundred and ninety seven households, of which one hundred and thirty five are targeted by the SHOUHARDO program, the increased capacity of the village to respond to development opportunities that has grown since the beginning of the program is a testament to all involved. It takes hard work from everyone, including the BITA, the volunteers in the field, and individuals themselves to not only receive the training and support of the SHOUHARDO program, but take the next step into making the initiatives their own. Proshinchor is one village which has ccepted the challenge, and it shows as their livelihoods continue to improve with every mat sold, every vegetable harvested, and every Union Parishad meeting which hears their voices.

By Lyrian Fleming, Regional Communications Assistant

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