The Wheel of Fortune: Story of Aysha Begum
November 5, 2009
In the village of Aloarchar, under the union of Porabari, Tangail District, there is a house, wherein is spinning a wheel of fortune- wherein is brewing a remarkable story of transformation. This is the story of Aysha Begum; 22 years of age, an artisan, a mother, a wife, and a fighter! Her lean yet defined figure, dark complexion, and resolute eyes, impart a sense of rousing curiosity in anyone who is to meet her. With undeterred concentration she works away at spinning threads, day-in, day-out, as we watch in amazement.
Aysha begum is one of the numerous men and women in her village, historically and traditionally adept at preparing threads for the handloom using a spinning wheel called the "Chorka", but many of whom have been subject to extreme poverty and strife due to lack of access to markets and information. There is an amazing analogy, between her story and those of others like her in the village, and their stories can also be told, through Aysha's own.
"My community is on a Char (a remote riverine island), which is why we have always been deprived of markets and support services”, notes Aysha. Amidst the exquisite greenery, clusters of little houses surrounded by tall trees and muddy ponds, and a picturesque agricultural landscape, Aysha and her fellow artisans have for long struggled to elevate out of poverty, with incomes looming around a dollar a day. “Since we are surrounded by rivers, our village is always prone to flooding during the monsoon, and Chorkas are the only way we women can earn some income, even during floods". It is their lifeline, as we got to know.
Aysha used to live in her parents' home once, basking within their love and care, who however had to arrange for Aysha’s marriage soon, for the economic conditions made it impossible to feed everyone in the family. "I was so happy with my parents, life was so much simpler", tells Aysha, "but I knew I had to marry and leave them soon, because we are poor".
So four years ago, at the age of 18, Aysha married her husband, who was and still is an expert craftsman selling labor to owners of handlooms in the closest urban markets. She has a son now- a year and a half old. Back then her husband was earning a modest 100 Taka ($1.4) a day, while she could contribute almost nothing. "We could barely feed ourselves every day, I was beginning to think how can we feed our children when I give birth", is what Aysha had to say about the extent of her tribulations. She was a victim of bonded labor, for she knew no markets. She had no knowledge of business or trade, and was completely dependent on one handloom owner, who used to provide her with work if she promised to spin threads only for him. "This person, I used to sell to, never gave me a fair price, as I realize now, and so my income from the Chorka, was minimal". Remarkably, when asked about the other women in the village, Aysha said that a vast majority of them faced the same crippling problem, "around 50 women in this village are skilled spinners, only 10 have Chorkas of their own". This was mid 2006.
In 2007, when the CARE EDU-SHOUHARDO (Economic Development Unit and Strengthening Households' Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities Project) collaboration expanded its outreach to Ataoarchar, it was clear that the women there were extremely skilled at spinning threads for handlooms, and therefore the economic potential was high. However the primary reason for low incomes was exploitation by a limited number of buyers.
"One day, I met a CARE staff, a lady, to whom I disclosed my problems, and the following day I found myself in the middle of an assembly of women like me, all waiting to join forces to establish control over our fate and our lives", informs Aysha. So this is how Aysha became a member of CARE's much acclaimed EKATA (Empowerment through Knowledge and Transformative Action) group, where she learned how to address many socioeconomic problems that had been constricting her material progress as a human being.
"This was the stepping stone towards reversing fortunes in my life”, is what Aysha had to say. By mid 2007, Aysha was part of a strong women’s group, aware of the problems around them, fighting to find realistic solutions, empowered with a feeling of solidarity, and trained in enterprise development and business management. CARE provided Chokras to 10 of these women, including Aysha, who now no longer had to sell to a solitary manipulative buyer. “This was the first time I stepped out of my home really, when I went with the other women to the big Porabari (semi-urban) market and promoted ourselves as expert spinners", says Aysha proudly. And nothing would compare to the sheer bliss she felt, as she told us, when she could manage multiple orders from multiple buyers within a month's time of efforts! And so began Aysha's journey towards economic emancipation.
CARE was instrumental in identifying the root cause of her poverty, and in empowering her with knowledge about her trade and business negotiations, and in facilitating linkages with buyers who would be providing orders with consistency. "Thanks to CARE, I have not only increased my income, but have also been able to foster savings, which I use for the benefit of my family in many ways". Since mid 2007, Aysha has been a member of a Chokra spinners savings group, depositing Taka 10 ($0.14) a week, which has given her access to a collective savings of around 17,500 Taka ($250) now. The group has an appointed cashier and a secretary to look after the accounts and fund management responsibilities. "I too find myself in one of these roles from time to time", says Aysha. It is a remarkable achievement, as we came to know, that 8 out of the 10 women who joined the EKATA group, have now successfully repaid their loans (as much as 5,000 Taka or $71.5) with interest, to various micro-credit organizations, and have instead accumulated savings.
It is not surprising then that Aysha’s family, in mid 2009, earns an income of $2.6 a day, representing an 85.7% rise in 2 years time- kudos to the family! Aysha's son is soon to begin his education, and she is hopeful that her son will complete his education and make their entire hard work amount to something truly meaningful. "I love my son, and I want the best for him and thanks to the Chorka, I believe I can help him achieve his dreams". Aysha has not forgotten her parents. "I love them too, and nowadays I try to help them with money, whenever I can, because they are old and cannot provide for them like before", says Aysha. Her Chorka and the colors that spin through it everyday bring color to her life now, and it brings smiles upon the faces of her husband and son. She even purchased a cow for Taka 8,000 last month, and intends to earn income from milk selling soon. She also has 5 chickens and the eggs she can sell provide her with additional income each month. In Aysha's words, "what I earn from the Chorka is helping me diversify my income sources, and enabling me to create more buffers against risks, such as floods and other shocks". Socially, Aysha is now more mobile, she visits markets regularly; brings in orders; supplies products to the markets herself; participates in regular group meetings and assemblies organized by her group as well as CARE; is more vocal about her problems and her achievements alike; and is a beacon of success for many to follow in her community.
"My life is truly changing, and it makes me proud that I am the driver of change", says Aysha. And it makes us proud that we have been able to provide Aysha with the power to change her life. And it is soothing to us because there are other women like Aysha in her community (Hasna, Ruposhi) who are making similar strides in life. But there are more who need help. And it keeps us on our toes, as CARE plans to haul in more women in to the group, use their savings to help them purchase more Chorkas, increase and diversify their incomes, and help them elevate above socioeconomic oppression, to become what they always wanted to become- Happy Spinners on the Wheel of Fortune!
(Story by Saif M M Islam, TC - EDU & Photos by Asif Uddin Ahmed, Director - EDU)
All Field Story