"People can live in poverty, but they cannot live without opportunity and hope."
— Runa Khan
Founder & Executive Director, Friendship NGO
After the river banks washed away her old home in Char Narayanpur, Rangpur, Shefali moved to a new char in Kurigram. With the help of the rehabilitation fund by the NGO, it was there that she rebuilt her home.
“We try to help survivors of natural calamities through our disaster rehabilitation programmes and then ensure microfinancing for these marginalised people. We provide vocational training so that they can become independent and self-reliant through farming, fisheries, sewing, boat building, and crafts. Our main motto is to stand by these people and help them through all of their difficulties and aide them in settling properly,” said Abdus Sabur Chowdhury, DGM and Head of Communications, Friendship.
Likewise, it was not all easy going for Shefali even after finding a new home. She had a lot more to fight against in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Domestic violence continued within her own home; there was poverty and anxiety, and at one point, her husband abandoned her along with their toddler and new-born. Completely helpless and miserable, Shefali was on the verge of losing hope once more, but the lifestyle brand ‘Friendship, Colours of the Chars’ came to her rescue. It helped Shefali regain confidence. Through this programme, she learned sewing, weaving, dyeing, and jewellery making, finally attempting to specialise in the weaving technique.
While speaking of ‘Friendship, Colours of the Chars,’ Nazra Mahjabeen Sabet, Assistant Director, Nodi Ltd., said, “It has made quite a name for itself in the country.”
“People who value home-grown, sustainable and environmentally friendly products have become our well-wishers and patrons. Essentially, the fashion industry contributes significantly to climate change, and it’s about time we understood the impact, and did something about it.”
“Based on these very beliefs and to empower the ladies of the ‘chars’ by providing them with adequate tools and training to run their livelihoods independently, the Friendship, Colours of the Chars lifestyle brand had been initiated.
Hassan Imam, a fashion designer working for Friendship Colours of the Chars, added to this perspective by revealing how the lifestyle brand refrained from using harmful chemicals in the production process, used pure cotton and silk threads, natural dyes and Azo free dyes, to make every new batch of sustainable clothing.
“We are even venturing into interior décor, jewellery making and Jamdani saris — the possibilities are endless, and the most beautiful feeling about it all is that we are actually doing something worthwhile and meaningful, both for the country and the underprivileged, marginalised people of society. I really feel proud to be a part of the brand,” said the designer.
Today, a typical day for Shefali means waking up early in the morning, sending her children to the Friendship school in the island, which offers education absolutely free of cost and lets her dream that one day, her children can become doctors and engineers.
After the children leave for school, Shefali goes to her training station and office, set up by Friendship in the same char she lives in; there, she dedicates her time weaving high quality, home-grown, sustainable, fashion products for the ethically conscious citizens of Bangladesh. Shefali is quite satisfied because at the end of the month, she earns a significant amount based on her productivity.
“What I get every month is enough to live happily. Thanks to Friendship, my children go to school for free. They get their medicines almost for free from the standardised medical camps and floating hospitals by the same NGO.
“I believe Friendship is the real saviour of my life. Otherwise, where would I have been today without them by my side as my guardians?” said a tearful Shefali.
With rivers all around, the soft white glimmering piece of land that comes up amidst nothing is certainly a sight to see. Once you run aground, you are mesmerised by its beauty, and even more so because of the people living there and their life stories, their hardships, and how they have overcome them with resilience.
Each individual has a unique story to tell, maybe of escaping an early marriage, maybe of surviving domestic violence, or recovering from mental illness. Whatever the stories, they have strength, resilience and courage in their voice and a hard-wearing smile, a rare sight for the ultra-poor, but an apt one for the proud and the independent, living life on their own terms.
“Today, if we lose our lands to the land eating demon, once again, we don’t have to worry too much, because there’s God watching over us through Friendship,” chuckled a beaming Shefali.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Models: Arpita, Mysha, Niki
Wardrobe: Friendship Colours of the Chars
Jewellery: Friendship Colours of the Chars
Makeup & Hair: Noyon Ahamed
Location: Contic Cruise, Char Deuli
Friendship Colours of the Chars retail outlet is located at Floor 2, House 40, Road 12, Block E, Banani, Dhaka 1212.