SWAPNO Stories

Taming Destitution by Mastering Dressmaking

Posted on 15 May, 2017

“I want my daughters to take up government jobs.”
Afsana Khatun, SWAPNO participant, Kurigram

It takes three hours by an engine boat, crossing the mighty Brahmaputra River, to reach Afsana’s small hut in a remote village of Rowmari Upazila in Kurigram district. A legacy of poverty traversed through generations in Afsana’s family. Her father was a poor peasant with four children and no assets and income to meet basic needs, which is why she was at the age of 12 married off to Jahad Ali, a day labourer from a neighbouring village. Jahad could not manage the family with his meagre earnings. Gradually, they felt the hardship after having two daughters – Jessy and Jasmine. Jahad fell seriously ill and died after a couple of years. Afsana was left all alone with two daughters.

Finding no option, she became a day labourer, although work was not regularly available. She and her daughters often starved as she failed to earn an income. Shopkeepers refused to sell on credit and used abusive words when she approached them as she as a destitute woman did not have any status in the society. Afsana went to the local Union Parishad for employment, or to get a Vulnerable Group Development card. Nothing came her way and she suffered for three and half years until she was employed by SWAPNO.

When asked what she wants to do after SWAPNO employment, Afsana smiled and replied, “I know my employment tenure will be over after eighteen months, but I am preparing myself for the future. I have not consumed all my wages and saved BDT 4500 (US$ 56) and bought a sewing machine. Using my limited sewing experiences, I am getting good orders from my neighbours. I will have savings of BDT 22500 (US$ 281) at the end of 18 months’ employment tenure, which I will use to buy dress materials and accessories to expand my tailoring shop. I will choose the advanced tailoring and dress making course in the upcoming vocational training.” She added that she has been earning about BDT 50 (US$ 0.6) per day from her tailoring. She lived in very harsh conditions, but never stopped her daughters’ schooling. She has been working hard to support her daughters’ education because she wants them to take up government jobs which have high social dignity and acceptance in the society.