There’s a large group of villagers crowding around. It seems like the whole community has come out to witness me take pictures. I’m assisting Andrew (Andy) Pike, the Social Entrepreneur Intern from Cornell University to document the women with their handicraft. As I’m photographing each person with her handiwork, I hear a cheerful “Khub bhalo!” repeatedly behind me. It’s coming from Andy who’s inspecting the women’s embroidery work. I can’t help but chuckle because it’s one of the few Bangla phrases that we interns know. “Khub bhalo” means “very good” and it also happens to be one of Andy’s favorite phrases. In fact, he and the other intern, Shu, love to say it in reply to any statement or question that’s said to them. But this time, the phrase is used in the right context.
When I zoom in to capture the craftsmanship of each article, I admire the work and think, “I want to buy that!” I’m trying to suppress my shopping tendencies to focus on the work that we’re trying to accomplish today.
As an economics student and entrepreneur, Andy is using his knowledge to help formulate a business plan for a crafts village for disadvantaged women. These women might be widowed, unmarried with children, divorced, or have suffered from abuse.
Currently he’s preparing the legal information to make this business into a non-profit entity. To do this, he is visiting the villages today to identify potential leaders in the community that might be employed by the organization. He’s also trying to find out as much as possible about the villages—how many residents there are, who has knowledge in crafts, how much can be produced, and who can be helped by this venture.
Andy hopes that there will be interested women from the village that will serve on the board of directors along with a representative from Panigram Resort. This way, Panigram can coordinate with the handicraft villages to produce high quality crafts for the resort’s store. As of now, there will be two handicraft villages—one specializing in pottery and the other in Bangladeshi traditional embroidery such as Nakshi Katha.
“Currently these people can make beautiful crafts but they don’t have any market to sell these in,” says Andy. With this non-profit organization he’s helping to create, villagers will have access to a larger and more affluent market.
“The women can earn higher incomes. Women will be able to work at their own pace so they can balance it with their existing responsibilities including childcare and agriculture work,” explains Andy.
These handicraft villages are more than a marketplace for tourists. “The village will be an opportunity to get acquainted with Bangladeshi culture and can be a day outing for the tourists. They will actively take part of activities in a sustainable manner while being respectful of local culture,” he says.
Having the non-profit manage the handicraft villages is just the beginning. There are plans in the future for the organization to branch out to provide health clinics, schools, and counseling centers for the surrounding communities. Khub bhalo!