Manju helps her daughter Ishita get ready for school every morning. She ties her hair into a ponytail, and brushes the creases off her school uniform which she herself has made.
Ishita walks down the hill, meeting a few friends on the way to school - many of whom are wearing uniforms made by her mother.
A difficult childhood
“My childhood was short lived,” said Manju, “I am the eldest of my two sisters. My father was a farmer. He could not earn enough for us. I was only 14 years old when I got married. Ishita was born within a year. She was only four when my husband fell sick and suddenly died”
A tragic accident
Manju returned to her father’s house with Ishita. She went to the city and found a job in a ready-made garment factory. She was a quick learner and her work impressed everyone.
One day, while returning from work, she was hit by a truck. She was severely injured. Her left leg snapped into two. She spent six months in the hospital before she could come home.
“I spent almost two years in bed,” said Manju. “My father had passed away by then. We had spent all our savings. How would I take care of my mother? What would happen to my daughter’s future?
One day I just sat on the sewing machine without really thinking. I suddenly realised what to do.”
Getting back on feet
Manju had lost so much in those few years, but she had not lost her skills. She began sewing clothes for her neighbours, with the hope of eventually opening her own shop.
However, something unexpected happened within a few months - the largest refugee crisis in the world unfolded in her village of Kutupalang. The massive influx of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas shook up her local economy. The price of daily essentials hiked up. Wages fell dramatically.
Manju’s family slipped further into ultra poverty.
Manju was selected as a participant of Ultra-Poor Graduation programme in Cox’s Bazar - a joint project with UNHCR, geared towards supporting host communities affected by the crisis.
Manju received two days of training on tailoring, along with business and financial management. She also received some fabric as capital, seeds for growing vegetables, and a goat.
“I started with only one sewing machine and now I have four,” said Manju.
“I sold four pairs of goats already. I have 12 chickens now. I also earn from selling my vegetables. I invested my income into my shop. I now have BDT 35,000 (USD 410) as capital.
Manju has three employees, all coming from difficult backgrounds.
“One of my employees has a hearing impairment. The other two belong to families who live in poverty, like I once did. I taught them how to sew. I want them to be confident and stand on their own feet like me.”
“I made this myself!” Ishita proudly states, “I am learning how to sew from my mother. She promised to make me a pretty red dress for my birthday.”
Manju has named her shop after her daughter. She feels that those difficult days are behind her now. She is now on a stable, sustainable path.
“I want everything for my daughter. I want her to learn and enjoy school, go to college and university.
I do my best to give her the childhood I never had. I want her to be confident - dream bigger than I ever could.”