Kulsuma, 38, is a enthusiastic, bright woman who has lived in poverty most of her life but is using the income from the Notunbazar project to improve her family’s standard of living. Kulsuma was born in a remote village of Kamlakanda of Netrokona district to a Muslim family. Her father had a small piece of agricultural land and a house, but the family was very poor. Kulsuma is the eldest of 3 children. She and her 2 brothers attended school up to Class 3, whereupon she was removed from school and her brothers continued to study. Even though she wanted to study to become a schoolteacher herself, as a girl in a rural area her education was cut short due to cultural limitations on educating girls and lack of income to pay for schooling.
At age 15 Kulsuma was married to a laborer chosen by her father. Her husband was also very poor and did not have a house or land. Because her husband did not have income or a home, Kulsuma stayed in her father’s house. Poverty was a constant threat. To try to improve her situation, Kulsuma started raising poultry for sale.
At the age of 18 she was blessed with a son. When her son was only 6 months old, her husband married another woman of her village without asking or informing Kulsuma. Her husband’s second wife had a piece of land and some income. Kulsuma was shocked and upset that her husband took another wife and her health started to deteriorate. Her younger brother took her in and supported her, as she separated from her husband. After some time she felt that she would not be able to survive on her own and, at her parents urging, reconciled with her husband.
Kulsuma had 3 more children. Now her oldest son and daughter live in her village; they are both married. One daughter, 16, lives with Kulsuma in Dhaka. Her youngest son, 9 years old, lives with his uncle and is studying in a Madrasa.
Although Kulsuma is only 38, she looks much older and is frequently feels ill. The doctor has informed her that she does not have any permanent disease or complication but a difficult life has taken its toll on her health.
Due to poverty and a family dispute both Kulsuma and her husband along with one daughter left her village for Dhaka in 2006. They first came to Solmaid area of Notun Bazar and started living in a small rented room made of bamboo for Tk 700 per month. As a day laborer, Kulsuma’s husband earns Tk 100-200, but he cannot always find work. He usually works from 8am-5pm. His earnings as a laborer were not enough to support the family, so Kulsuma started searching for a job. It was not easy to find any work, but Kulsuma continued to search. Finally, she found out about the Notunbazar training and was very happy to enroll for the project.
The Notunbazar Project started offering training courses from 15th April, 2007. Before offering training, the CLO undertook field visits to homes to inform women about the opportunity. Kulsuma heard about the Notunbazar project from one of Dalia’s visits. After understanding the training and work, she was excited about the opportunity and signed up for Course 6 (2nd batch) on Crochet that started at the beginning of July. Kulsuma was regular, punctual and attentive in her training. She finished crochet training and started earning from production work at the beginning of September. To revive her previous education, she is also attending literacy classes.
Asked about her feelings about the project and her work, she feels “this opportunity has been created in this place for me.” Kulsuma’s daughter, Nunnahar, 16, also received training in course no. 9 on crochet (ended in November). Both of them are attending literacy classes together.
Kulsuma is an ambitious woman who strives to do better and improve her skill and speed. When she is work, she is quiet and focused on keeping her hands busy.
Although she has only been working for 4 months, her products are of a good quality and she finishes quickly. Kulsuma normally works full day in the project (9am to 5pm) and earns Tk 1500-2000 per month. As her skills improve her earnings are increasing.
In the meantime, Kulsuma’s standard of living and family have benefited significantly from her earnings. After joining production work, the family moved into better accommodation. When the family first came to Dhaka, they lived a small bamboo hut and had little private space. Once Kulsuma started earning at the Notunbazar project, the family moved to better room. The family has a separate room with shared cooking, bathing, and toilet facilities. The new house is made of brick and cement and has sufficient space for living and storage. The compound has enough space for the 8 families who live there to live in harmony. The new house is located adjacent to the project and the rent is TK. 1200 per month. The new room is a vast improvement in living conditions for Kulsuma. In addition, Kulsuma can now buy fish, vegetables, and meat occasionally, which she was not able to do before. Happily she mentioned that “now I can buy sarees and clothes.”
With her additional earnings, Kulsuma has been able to send Tk. 400 to her youngest son who is a madrasa student. Her daughter, Nunnahar, had long requested a gold ring and Kulsuma was able to give her one as a present. The gold ring cost Tk 1300. Kulsuma is also ensuring her financial future and has invested in a 10-year life insurance policy, for which the monthly installment payment is Tk 300.
Kulsuma is full of hope and plans for the future; she wants to forget her past days of hardship. She is determined to work to improve her situation and that of her daughter. She wants to become more skilled to make more products to increase her earnings. She strongly believes that the crochet hook is a tool that will not betray us, if we could make best use of it.