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Why I can now invest in my children's futures

Where others see problems, entrepreneurs like Halima see possibilities …

Halima Begum wouldn’t necessarily be the first person who springs to mind when you say ‘successful entrepreneur’.

She lives in rural Bangladesh, and if she wrote a CV, the only previous business experience on it would be extracting the jute fibre used in making sacks and bags from the cut plant. But Halima runs a thriving business, making a profit and defying the norms for women in conservative Bangladeshi society.

Until about a year ago, Halima didn’t earn enough to make ends meet.

She and her husband don’t own any land at all, meaning that the only income they had was from labouring in neighbours’ fields. Like many women in the area, Halima used to earn a little by extracting jute – but the jute season is just three months long, and Halima wasn’t even paid a wage – instead receiving one bundle of jute sticks per bundle of jute fibre extracted.

The jute industry plays a vital role in Bangladesh’s economy – an estimated 10% of the Bangladeshi economy is supported by jute production – but for the people who process the ‘golden fibre’ the work is hard and brings little reward. It is mostly carried out by women, and involves squatting for long hours in waterlogged fields.

Life was tough for Halima and her familyHa, and even putting meals on the table and paying the bus fare for the children to get to school was a struggle. She and her husband were forced to borrow money at high rate of interest, causing arguments and tension at home.

Halima’s big idea came when she spotted an opportunity to make paper bags for the local market traders.

With a small loan from Traidcraft Exchange’s JEWEL project, which supports women working in the jute industry to come together and learn business skills so they can diversify their incomes, she invested in scrap paper and glue, and soon realised that there was huge demand for her products.

She now makes around 100 bags a day, and has paid back her loan in full. With her profits, she’s investing in her children’s futures. Now she can afford the bus fares for her children to go to school regularly.

“I have dreams about my children – that they will do better jobs, and won’t have to face poverty like I did,” she says. “They also eat much better now, with fish every other day and two eggs per person per week as well as meat twice a month.”

Traidcraft Exchange has operated in Bangladesh for almost 30 years, during which time they’ve worked with countless people like Halima – people who are full of potential and ambition, but lack opportunities. With your support, Traidcraft Exchange could reach thousands more hidden entrepreneurs, giving them the opportunities they need to leave poverty behind for good.

Best of all, thanks to the generosity of the UK Government, all donations to the Hidden Entrepreneur appeal made between 12 January and 11 April 2018 will be doubled, meaning your donation will change the lives of twice as many inspiring people like Halima.

To learn more about Traidcraft Exchange and the Hidden Entrepreneur appeal, go to www.traidcraft.org.uk/hidden, email hello@traidcraft.org.uk or call 0191 497 6445.

To watch how Halima makes a paper bag, go to www.traidcraft.org.uk/halima

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