It was on a trip to Bangladesh in 2017 that the idea for Aunty Ellen first came about.
Post studies, I found myself following an eco crazy friend on an Operation Groundswell trip to Bangladesh, opening my eyes to clothing production.
Since returning I was seeking an avenue to combine my love of fashion, nephew Jude and endeavour to teach people of the value of sustainable business and conscious consumerism.... and so, Aunty Ellen was born.
Here is part one of a four part series on my travels to Bangladesh.
The Girl Gang feat. myself, school friend and funky jewellery maker, Ellie, uni friend (eco crazy one) Ash, bright-haired Canadian chic, Linnea, fashion sustainability beauty, Anne and local angel, Mursalin.
WATCH THE TRUE COST ON NETFLIX. Thanapara swallows featured!
Founded by Swedish organisation The Swallows, in Thanapara Village, Bangladesh in 1973, Thanapara Swallows is now a fully independent non-governmental, not for profit organisation.
Located in north-western Bangladesh (an overnight train ride from Dhaka) on the riverbank of Padma (Ganges).
--- As a group of 6 white females we experienced some interesting attention whilst waiting for the overnight train. We were hoping to wait in an assigned waiting room however this was closed. Standing outside another room, one by one men and some women came up to us and formed a circle around us, standing and staring! It was super strange and a little uncomfortable. Putting myself in their shoes I recognised that they never see western people catching a local train specially women and were purely intrigued. I never felt unsafe or as if they were giving the up and down but rather they were just starting at our faces with pure fascination. ----
During the liberation period in 1971, this peaceful village was transformed when on 13th of April the Pakistani Army suddenly invaded the village and killed over 100 unarmed men. This massacre was the largest atrocity in the Rajshahi District during the war. With the destruction of the male heads of household, the families in the village faced certain destitution and hopelessness.
In 1973, the Swedish organisation, The Swallows, hearing of the massacre and the resultant desperation of the survivors, began a relief program on 1st October 1973, named The Swallows Association for Social Voluntary Service, Thanapara Project providing a school, and handicraft program for the war-affected women of the village.
Their mission is centred on empowering the poor and underprivileged population by eradicating illiteracy, creating health awareness and self-employment, raising awareness among the landless for the rights of land and empowering women by creating economic and social awareness.
To contribute to poverty alleviation - assisting community members in the generation of self-employment for a self-reliant future.
To advance and promote the equal status of woman in the family, as well as in society.
To organise different training programmes and increase skill and awareness among the members through participatory training.
All 280 students enrolled in the Primary School Program come from the poorest families in the village. The students attend both the academic course work and vocational training. In the vocational training students learn how to weave, sew, embroider and to look after a garden. There are also sports, drama, singing, and small-scale gardening classes. Once a week, the students work in the fields where they gain practical experience in farming.
The school offers grades 1-5. Most Bengali people only complete to grade 5.
In the time we were there we planted some new plants and re-painted one of their colourful walls. The children were so excited to see us. We played clapping games with them and asked them simple english questions like fave colour etc which they loved answering - some many times then once.
Providing regular professional care of children of handicraft workers. There were some pretty cute kids there.
The mutual health care program's goal is to provide primary health care and medicine to people from Thanapara village and surroundings. The unlimited membership costs 50 Taka (less than $1 USD). The health centre offers basic health care services and counselling as well as medical products with 30% discount.
Combating Domestic Violence
This Project seeks to increase awareness to women and children of their rights in the family and society, and to prevent violence against them. It encourages government to pass a new bill to eradicate domestic violence against women and children.
The Handicraft Program is divided into these sections: Dying section, Bobbin making, Design, Weaving, Sewing, and Embroidery. In each of these sections, the producers make products either by special order or for general sale, using only local materials. The items produced range from handloom fabrics, to bed covers, wall hangings, from woman and man clothing to various types of bags.
The products are sold largely in Japan, Denmark, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. The organisation is a member of the International Federation of Alternative Trade (IFAT), ECOTA Fair Trade Forum, and Bangla Crafts.
8 brands @ jan 2018 - People Tree Uk and Japan.
They will develop new fabrics each season and show to brands
22 tailors and 2 pattern makers
5000 people in village
The organization meets the principles of Fair Trade.
Have to pay 3000 euros a year for fair trade certification
Wages on average
embroidery - 5300 taka/month (approx $82AUD $2.90 a day)
weaving 7000-14000 taka/month ($109AUD-$219)
tailor as above
min wage 6300
average rent within village 2000 - much cheaper than Dhaka
6+ rooms for guests
We stayed in the same room that Emma Watson stayed in a few years ago when she visited #famous.
Kitchen. a group of lovely ladies who cook for some of the workers and guests.
One beautiful lady told us about her past - she finished high school (vary rare for women back then) and married. She had three kids but her husband left over 15years ago so she was left to raise them. One of her sons has mental health problems which is challenging to deal with in a third world country like Bangladesh as the support is limited. And to top it all off her elbow was broken but she couldn't afford surgery so she was cooking for weeks !
(The lady is second from the left - what an angel !)