On the road to collective turnaround
Bithi Akter, a housewife from Doyakandi village under Deulabari union in Tangail's Ghatail upazila, was struggling to maintain the five-member family with a meagre income of her day labourer husband during the Covid-19 situation.
The 35-year-old woman was having difficulty to make ends meet of her family, including two daughters and one son, due to the soaring prices of the essentials. She was desperately eyeing for an alternative source of income and set out on the entrepreneurial mission as a wig maker, a less-explored arena that she had not long been experienced in.
It all started with her job at a small factory at her ancestral Shimultoly village in the upazila through an acquaintance. The job of the factory is to make wigs. Bithi learned the work well with just a few days of training. She was working with other women and girls in the factory and supporting her family by the earning.
However, she had to spend some extra money to do the work going a few kilometers away from her husband's house.
Then, two months ago, she rented a tin-shed room next to her paternal house and started doing the work from there.
Besides, she worked to increase the number of workers in the factory after giving training to the women and girls of the village.
At present, a total of 26 women and girls of the village are working with her. Most of the workers, aged between fifteen to twenty, are students of local schools and colleges. Due to the closure of educational institutions in the Covid-19 situation, the women and girls were sitting idle at their houses with acute financial crisis. But now they are generating income.
Bithi said, "Actually, while working in Shimultoly, the company's supervisor advised me to do the work staying in my own village after taking some local women and girls with me. The rent of the structure and other necessary items all are provided by the company. They also provide the hair needed to make the wigs."
"Depending on the size, it takes one, two or two and half days to prepare each hair cap. We earn Tk 200 to Tk 700 per day. But the work is very delicate; it has to be done very care carefully."
"I along with my elder daughter earn wages by working here. In addition, the company pays me an additional salary of Tk 5,000 per month to tarin and take care of the new girls.," Bithi said.
"Now, I have been asked by the company to increase production by involving more local girls in the work," she added.
Bablu Miah, a former union parishad member of the village, said the name of the company is 'Hands and Hooks' which is a China and Bangladesh joint venture. Their office is in Dhaka's Uttara.
"A number of girls and women of the village have been benefited a lot from getting work in this small factory. With the schools and colleges closed due to coronavirus outbreak, boys of the village are busy roaming around unnecessarily or with mobile phones, while girls are able to to earn some money working at the factory. Now they are able to do something for themselves and their families with their income. We the villagers are happy with this," he added.
Taslima Akter, a college girl from the village and a worker of the factory, said, "I used to stay at home as the college was closed due to outbreak of coronavirus. I have been making wig at the factory with others for the last one month and half after Bithi Apa (sister) me trained me up doing the work. At the end of the month I get a few thousand taka as wage. Now I can do some shopping for myself if I want to; I can also help my family if needed."
Shimu, Amena, Tahmina and few other girls of the village working at the factory expressed almost the identical feeling.
Jubdil Khan, a former student of Jagannath University and now a government officer of neighbouring Pakutia village said one day he went to the village and saw the girls working at the factory.
"I would like to thank Bithi Apa for providing employment opportunity to so many girls at the village besides herself in this very difficult time of the pandemic. Due to her initiative, the girls of the area are able to earn up to Tk 10,000 a month by working in the factory."
"If different business people or organisations set up such small factories in rural areas to provide job opportunities and fair wages to the local people, especially the youths, the unemployment problem will be reduced on the one hand and on the other hand they will be saved from terrorism, drugs and other degradations," he added.
Manjur Morshed, factory manager of 'Hands and Hooks', said that a couple of years ago, 'Hands and Hooks' started setting up the small factories in different places in Dhaka, Tangail and Rangpur where production and maintenance are done by women workers. Everything needed for the preparation of the wig, including hair, is brought from China following the health directives properly.
However, the Chinese employees of the company visit the factories to maintain the quality of the wig assembled by the women and girls. The wigs are sent to China after holding the final checking at the Ware House in Dhaka, he said.
Two factories were already in operation at Bhaighat in Madhupur upazila and Shimultoly in Ghatail upazila of Tangail. Later, the new factory was opened up at Doyakandi in Ghatail with the help of Bithi. At present, more than three hundred women and girls are engaged in making these wig in the three districts, including Tangail. The company pays a fair wage for their work, Morshed said.