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Dhaka Tribune

Breaking free from poverty

Update : 30 Jun 2015, 06:41 PM

Six years ago, Mariam’s husband suddenly died of a stroke, leaving her alone with two children to provide for. Left without the security of an income, Mariam was forced to find work to make ends meet. She found a job in a garments factory, but had to leave after four months because her employer was verbally abusive. Times were hard: Mariam could not afford three meals a day, was unable to send her children to school, or make her monthly rent.

But then Tarango changed her life.

Tarango is an organisation that empowers disadvantaged women by training them to produce beautiful woven handicrafts from the hill tracts of Chittagong. The women use hand-woven fabrics made of jute and other natural fibers -- as unique as pomegranate skin -- to create artefacts like bags and mats. These handicrafts are then exported under fair trade conditions to countries all over the world, including USA, UK, Japan, and Australia.

Thus, Tarango substantially improves these women’s lives by providing them with skills training, secure jobs, and health and savings benefits, and simultaneously developing an export market for their products.

The World Bank recently announced its sustainable development goals to frame the post-2015 development agenda, and a top priority on this list of goals is worldwide eradication of extreme poverty. In light of this international objective, Tarango is a great example of a program that can be replicated across rural Bangladesh to help more individuals graduate out of poverty.

Currently, Tarango is already making a substantial impact. Mariam is only one of 18,000 women employed by the organisation that has a presence in 10 districts across Bangladesh.

Kohinoor Yeasmin, Tarango’s CEO, is a positive beacon within the organisation and is determined to reach out to as many disadvantaged women as possible. She hopes that by economically empowering these women, we can hope for a future free from gender inequality.

Today, Mariam earns a monthly income of Tk10,000 but is especially grateful for the additional help she receives from Tarango -- be it the family support or the retirement and healthcare benefits.

The organisation has set up Asroy, a daycare center where women workers can leave their young children and older daughters. Ms Yeasmin was prompted to establish the centre when two girls were mistreated while their mothers were away working at Tarango. Today, the shelter provides a safe haven for mothers like Mariam to rest at ease while they are at work. Additionally, the centre furthers girls’ education by sending them to school once they are older.

To support savings, Tarango has established a joint provident fund in which a monthly Tk600 is deducted from the women’s salaries and deposited toward their future.

Tarango then matches this contribution for each woman. For women’s health, there are free monthly medical check-ups, with Tarango covering half the cost of routine medicines and the complete cost of any X-rays or blood tests.

For Mariam, this support has been a blessing as she was recently diagnosed with a tumour in her leg. Under regular circumstances, such a health shock could have pushed Mariam to slip back into bad times. However, with Tarango covering the cost of her operation, she has recovered successfully.

All in all, Tarango provides an unprecedented amount of support for these women -- giving them a viable economic opportunity, as well as nurturing them through tough times.

The organisation provides a tried-and-tested model that can be replicated across the country, especially given the international focus on eliminating extreme poverty. For now, we can only hope that as the organisation grows and as others join this cause, more disadvantaged women will be fortunate enough to gain access to this initiative. 

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