Info Ladies – Women Heroes of Rural Bangladesh

Women have to go beyond any boundaries they might have set for themselves. Thinking something that a woman can’t do because that particular thing is a man’s domain, is where she is restricting herself! Women have incredible power. Just inspiration can help them to grow their dreams. As a photographer every day I am capturing woman’s battles, voices, dreams and triumphs. By putting light on their lives and dreams I would like to tell stories that the world should know about! Welcome all of you to the heroic world of INFO Ladies of Bangladesh!

The Info Ladies cover many miles on their journeys from village to village. With their bicycles and laptops, the Info Ladies of Bangladesh bring the world a sense of independence from one village to the next. This has changed the country, and their lives, too. The young women have become role models for a whole generation.

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The Info Ladies cover many miles on their journeys from village to village/www.gmb-akash.com

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The meetings in the villages are free, with a charge for some services/www.gmb-akash.com

Sathi is the most successful Info Lady in the Gaibandha district. Between banana trees and flood swamps, she has opened an info shop in her home village Jarabarsha. A banner in front of the shop rattles in the wind. It reads: “We are independent because we are Info Ladies.”

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The Info Lady is wearing her info lady uniform, a blue cape and pink trousers. Amid the dark green landscape, she shines like a ladybird on a dandelion leaf/  www.gmb-akash.com

The corrugated iron on the roof shines more brightly than anywhere else in the area. A table mounted on the trunk of a tree lists all the services Sathi offers. Sathi offers Skype calls, online bank transfers, online university application assistance, digital camera rentals, mobile phone ringtone downloads and photography services. She gives pregnancy tests, measures diabetics, takes blood pressure, identifies blood type and even sells underwear for women. Recently she opened her pre-primary school with a vision to create an example for the village.

 

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Sathi in her info shop which provides for her whole family/ www.gmb-akash.com

Sathi is a 24 year-old petite woman with a barely perceptible smile and deliberate movements. When a man pushes his broken mobile phone across the counter, she unscrew the lid of the phone, fumbles around with the speakers for a few seconds with a metal pin and declares: “it’s broken, I will order a new one,” without expecting any rejection. Sathi has a scar with six stitches on her right ankle from a fall from her bicycle when she still had problems keeping her balance. She proudly shows the scar. Laughing loudly while explaining how difficult it was to convince her father about bicycle riding, she says, “I learned the basics of computers in three days, but it took months to convince my father to let me ride a bicycle.” But now she has changed the financial face of her family. In nearly three years of this job she built new house and renovated the old shop which is now the famous info shop.

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Sathi has to go from village to village to give her services. On that humid day Sathi repeatedly grabs the corner of her pink dupatta and wipes sweat off her face. She is wearing her Info Lady uniform, a blue cape and pink trousers. Amid the dark green landscape, she shines like a ladybird on a dandelion leaf. Sathi cycles past men in waist-deep water. The men stop their work for a moment and look up. Sathi nods in greeting. When she finally arrives in the village, she rings her bicycle bell three times, and women immediately start crowding around her.

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An Info Lady is a nurse, mail carrier, fashion consultant, farmer, photographer, psychologist – all in one.

A short while later the women they roll out fabric bags to sit on and Sathi shows them a film about feeding infants. Then in a firm voice, she repeats every single fact: “You need to wash your breast before you breast-feed your baby. You do not need milk powder from the store; your breast milk is perfectly fine until the fifth month. After this, pay attention to adequate amounts of calcium and proteins. Have you all seen which foods contain these substances?” The women, some twice as old as Sathi, look at her. Their silent glances show how much respect they feel for someone so knowledgeable.

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The meetings in the villages are free, with a charge for some serviceswww.gmb-akash.com

Sathi’s working day ends with accounting. Using a computer programme, she notes every cent she earns. The group meetings are free, but a digital passport photo costs 10 cents, a blood pressure measurement costs 5 cents. Sathi has earned the equivalent of 2.60 Euros – a moderate day’s income. Last month, her income totaled 133 Euros. By comparison, a farmer in the district of Gaibandha earns about 60 Euros a month.

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Many young women resist the opposition of their parents when they become Info Ladies. Sathi’s mother is different. She says: “All women bear children, but not all give birth to children as important as this one”

In a country where less than a quarter of the population uses the Internet and where access is both slow and expensive, Bangladesh’s ‘Info Ladies’ offer a series of vital services to people living in remote, rural parts of the country. The “Info Ladies” project was launched in 2008 by a local non-governmental organisation called D.net. The same organisation had previously sent so-called “mobile ladies” through Bangladesh – young women with mobile phones, who enabled the inhabitants to communicate with people outside their village. When most inhabitants eventually owned a mobile phone, the Info Ladies were launched. They now offer mobile Internet, in a country with 152 million people, of whom five million have access to the worldwide web. D.net works together with local organisations to implement the project. In Gaibandha district, the NGO Udayan is involved. The name translates as “the resurrection”. The Info Ladies are trained for several weeks in the barracks of Udayan.

 

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In the rainy season, the Info Ladies cross the water on hastily cobbled together rafts or bridgeswww.gmb-akash.com

A Bangladeshi Info Lady is not just a woman with a laptop; she’s an entrepreneurial businesswoman bringing isolated people a piece of the world with valuable information and services. Info Ladies managed to change the perspective of villagers in many ways. Dohrmina, a village elder, now gives advice to the youth that would have been unthinkable in her day. She says: go to school, secure your own income, and don’t have too many children. Dohrmina says: “We didn’t even know what independence meant.”

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Like Dohrmina villagers have been paying more attention to their health now the Info Ladies make their visitswww.gmb-akash.com

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After measuring weight of the pregnant woman Mahfuza says, “You need to eat more,”

Of the 10 Info Ladies from Sathi’s group, seven are still active after three years. The Info Lady Mahfuza who is one of them rests her bike on the kickstand. Mahfuza is 22 years old and an Info Lady. She is part of a project in which young women use modern technology to distribute information to the most remote corners of Bangladesh. Mahfuza’s former classmates are now all married; most have one or two children. Some girls are married by the age of 13 or 14 and by the age of 20, parents actively look for a husband for their daughters. But Mahfuza learned to hold her head up.

 

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A camera transmits the image of the extended family – with the brown calf which has been given the name Bohon – from their village of Bangamur in the north of the country, showing the courtyard with its highly polished loam clay and hastily-stacked hay bales all the way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. Tajul Islam, son, husband, nephew, cousin – and sorely missed by his family for a decade – lives there, a distance of some 4,500 kilometres, slaving away on building sites and sending all the money he has left to the village. The time they talk every week via Skype is their only chance to hear and see each other.

 

Meanwhile Mahfuza sits under a roof made of bamboo leaves and takes measures the blood pressure of a pregnant woman. Someone from the crowd shouts: “she’s expecting a boy.” Mahfuzaa does not even look up from the blood pressure meter as she responds: “boy or girl, it does not matter, both are equally good.” Another lesson learned. Mahfuza is contacted by girls who need underwear but do not dare go into a store. She then goes shopping for them. Farmers ask Mahfuza what is wrong with their rice plants. She photographs spots on the leaves and sends the images to an expert in Dhaka.

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A grandmother holds her grandson in her arms. He seems apathetic, his arms and legs are hanging limply. Mahfuza throws a quick sideways glance to the mother standing by the roadside. “Did you have him vaccinated as I had suggested?” The mother shakes her head imperceptibly. Mahfuza exhales audibly, stroking her hand over the baby’s head. She promises to come back in a few days and take the child to a mobile clinic.

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The Info Lady Mahfuza also is a photographer. She sends a photo of a villager in her finery to her husband in the capital Dhaka/  www.gmb-akash.com

As a result, the women themselves experience a sense of freedom, empowerment and economic independence. This has started to change their country, still struggling with improving the historical violation of women’s right. They have become heroes for an entire generation of young women by giving them hope and inspiration to also be able to work and enjoy personal freedom in a predominantly Muslim country. Although proving to be a driving force of positive change and transformation, these Info Ladies have had to “walk on thorns”. They have fought against social stigma, a conservative Muslim society as well as deep cultural prejudices against the value and rights of women.

 

If they were able to change their lives so radically, why should this not also be possible for others?

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‘Today’s Slavery’

The sound of Monu’s footsteps compel us to look at him. It seems he is willingly trying to make the strange sound grab our attention towards his new gum boots. Before I speak to him, he shows all his teeth and enthusiastically says, ‘Bhaijan I bought them for 200 taka from the street. Bou (his wife) had washed them so well that I can see my face in them! Ha! Ha! Ha’

Before I compliment him something someone on my right side, Nibaron, who is Monu’s colleague of 15 years loudly said, ‘Hmm, does your new wife, still cry for you to drop the job, Monu?’ Monu recklessly replies, ‘Women are fools! She thinks tannery labourers die earlier. Allah is the one to decide. Women are crying party. Now I have these gum boots to protect me. She is happy and I am happy too!’

Monu got married to ‘Salma’ five months ago. Salma heard that tannery workers die at an early age, so she started requesting Monu to leave this dangerous job. But by doing this job for last 15 years, Monu, a 21 years-old man is surviving. He cannot imagine doing any other work than tannery nor is he capable of doing any other job.

The chronic cough he has or the rashes on his skin do not bother him anymore. Still he dreams of a better future with the 8000 taka salary. Now the dream is sweeter with his caring wife ‘Salma’.

Posing for the camera he said roughly, ‘By working in this hell, I am still alive. God might be giving me a long life bhai.’

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I have been taking photographs in this factory for many years. I cannot find many of the faces I used to know. When I inquire about them the common response I hear is that because of illness they moved to their villages with their families.

The repulsive smell on my body or the sticky chemicals on my favorite jeans does not affect me anymore; Just like Monu. Only when I return from this work and the rickshaw puller turns his head several times and at last wisely says, ‘Sir, you came from tannery!’ Then I realize I am also polluting the air.

 

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Like Monu many labourers believe that a pair of gum boots is their safe guard. Some of them tie gamsa (a traditional cotton towel) to save their lungi from the filth. But when they start working their sweat, factories chemicals, and raw leather shower them with poison and loathsome smells. A pair of gum boots and gamsa can not not save their hope to survive very long.

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Every time I enter these deadly factories, I imagine that I am leaving the 20th century and have gone back 100 years in time. The ancient plan has neither fan nor any air circulation system. Thanks to those decades old broken bricks in the wall there ia a path for some fresh air. The leather hangs from the ceiling makes the air more toxic. The unstoppable giant drum keeps moving restlessly with raw leather pieces  and produces extreme laud noise. If fatigue overcomes labourer they fall asleep in the piles of raw leathers. Some labourers get a cigarette and take a break to see the sky outside. But the sky is dark and filled with smoke. The drain that is passing by is full of red chemical liquids that keep polluting the area and the mighty river Buriganga for 60 years now.

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11-year old Rakib gives me the brightest smile and curiously asks, ‘What do you do with all these picture, sir?’ But he then rushes away before I can speak to him. Carrying uncountable leather pieces  in his shoulder he has no time for questions and answers. Rakib’s friend Monir (7-year old) keeps pinning up the leather at the yard. After the death of his father he got the job in his father’s factory. He had no idea what had happened to his father. He only knew he was suffering from an incurable disease. He feels good to work during the whole day and it is only in evening when his heart cry for playing.

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Standing beside Monir I was trying hard to understand their miseries but laughter broke my concentration. I saw a group of workers cracking jokes outside and were laughing hilariously. Life goes on. These simple people risking their lives everyday in order to live the best they can. Society is not actually willing to know about their sufferings but they are nevertheless  willing to buy their processed leather which leather has a good worldwide reputation. However the savles of the toxicity and repugnant odors have no good reputation. In their way home to to their slums they cannot sit in any tea stall to relax. People shout on them for their repulsive odors which disturbs everyone. Only their produced goods get place inside a branded shop with a prestigious tag ‘Made in Bangladesh’. The makers only receive humiliation.

Tannery worker Omar Faruk sadly says, ‘If we travel by bus nobody will sit beside us. One day a man harshly said to me, ‘You must come from hell.’

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(Almost all of Bangladesh’s 200-plus tanneries are concentrated in Hazaribagh, a densely populated, filthy neighborhood on the banks of the Buriganga River in southwestern Dhaka. You can smell them long before you can see them: an unbearable stench like bad eggs, rotting fish and harsh ammonia. It’s almost impossible to walk through the tanneries without a scarf pressed to your nose. At almost $1 billion a year in sales, the leather industry is one of Bangladesh’s most profitable sectors. The lives of more than 20,000 tannery workers are still at risk. After 60 years of tannery operations, no one knows what content of toxins have been poured into the river, only that it is incalculable and staggering. Chromium sulfate, lead, organohalogens, lime, hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid, formic acid, bleach, dyes and oils all flow into the river)

 

‘My Genie’

It was too boring when Maa used to stare at me while I was eating. I repeatedly taunted her, ‘Why are you staring Maa?’ While putting her portion of fish on my plate she always ignored my question and said, ‘I know you are still hungry’. I showed anger to her but I know no mother cares about her child’s anger. Late at night the lock of the back door used to open instantly to the sound of my my silent footsteps. When Abba burst out in anger and the hell with my bloody photography, Maa for the first time miraculously raised her low voice and faithfully said, ‘Photos are good. Have you seen any one else to do such work in the area?!’ Our small area was the world to her and I was the hero. Maa was the only fascinated listener of my fairy photo-world-tour tales.

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To me she always seemed ‘simplest’ than the word ‘simple’. At mid-night when I felt suffocated in sleeplessness my mother appeared at my bed side with hot milk in her favorite silver glass. I never felt surprised or ever questioned her how she knew I was wake in the middle of the night. Returning home from a heavy rain and getting hot lemon tea at my table was very normal. Or tasting Maa’s peculiar juices in the crazy summer never bagged her any special credit. But I know from my heart that she is my ‘Mother Genie’. She broke the mud coin bank that she secured with each paisa she had and that day said, ‘Go, get your photo prints’.

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Suddenly one day I realized there was no one… no one no more to be concerned about the sweat on my forehead. My Genie left me suddenly without telling me a good bye. If I would have known I have to now walk a long road without her, I would have told  her a lot of untold stories. I sure would have told her, the photography that I love more than my life is as important to me as her; I love her more than that photography. Maa is no more. That’s why I keep searching Maa everywhere.

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A sister in a brothel used to send letters to her mother with fake address by putting small words, ‘Maa Goo your Pakhi’. Like me she also knows mothers never give up. They will wait until their children arrive. Exactly like the mothers of the Old Age Home who are crossing through their 80 s and still praying for their children from nuclear families that they may live in happiness.

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For bringing light into the face of their children of early ages these mothers went down in the garbage, worked in dusky brick fields, showered in cold sweats as mothers do. Their tired bodies never take rest even after returning homes. They did the shopping on the way to their home and cooked rice and Daal. By lining up their four to six children they checked carefully if all of them are well or not. A few mothers, even after being beaten by the fathers everyday kept their children in their lap and dreamt of an impractical reality for them.

 

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Children well known the God has gifted special power to their mothers. That power comes out in love, patience, sacrifice. But what do Mothers gets? Can’t we do something for the mother who never wants anything for themselves? The mother who is giving a new life to us everyday can’t we warm her with our affection?

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Why still today mothers get humiliated at the corner of the house? On the floor of the Old Age Home? Or in the dirtiest hospital bed from negligence?

 

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‘Lifelong Scars’

The small window is a passage to the world for Rebeka Khatun (22) since she rented the tin shed room two months ago. Living in hospital for ten months took most of her will power after the deadliest incident of her life. Now she does not think too much. But the silence of her tin shed rented room does not allow her to rest in peace. Idle Rebeka now thinks about the charger fan that  is restlessly cooling her. The inventor of the Dolphin charger fan might never have thought a garment factory worker could think about this fan for such long time. Yes, she wants to think different things now-a-days. She is tired of answering the same questions, tired of seeing unknown faces, tired of begging from people, tired of crying so long. She needs a break but from what she does not know.

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When she closes her eyes her mother gently touches her cheeks. The mother who once made cow dung to feed Rebeka. The mother who wiped her tears when she cried and slept in hunger. Rebeka and her mother Chan Banu (45) had seen all the ups and downs in life. In the village they had to even beg to survive. Chan Banu did everything for her daughter Rebeka . She was life to her. Rebeka opened her eyes that were filled with tears and touched her right leg which itched all the time. There is no electricity for two hours and the restless Dolphin fan slowed down. Rebeka was sweating; the salted water flowed from her body, her eyes and maybe from her soul. The girl who started earning at the age of 15 never imagined her life without her mother and as a disabled person. She could not sleep the last two nights. Rebeka’s husband Mostafizur fanned her the whole night but pain is part of her existence now. Even when she opens her mouth only pain is visible on her face.

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She lost her father in childhood. Her mother remarried just to save her from hunger. Fate did not take any right turns. After some years the mother and daughter moved to Dhaka with her two stepbrothers. Her stepfather’s only problem was Rebeka. But Chan Banu chose her daughter. Their struggle took them to the right place after so many years. That was to the garment factory. Thinking about the happy times unconsciously Rebeka slightly smiles. Her mother used to buy fishes for her after getting her salary. The last 12 months she and her husband’s life depended on charity. One year ago together they earned 22000 taka. Now the government assures her 10000 taka monthly as interest of her compensation that is hardly enough to live a disable life in the costly city of Savar. It’s been four years since Rebeka got married. She and her mother together joined Rana Plaza. They went everyday to their factory Ethar Tex hand in hand. One month before the biggest disaster ever she had a miscarriage. She and her mother cried a lot. Chan Banu said, ‘Don’t worry! Allah will give you happiness ma!’Huh! Happiness! Rebeka tried hard to turn her body around and her tongue dried. She had to ask her husband for a glass of water. Asking for help is now her only job.

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Rebeka has gone through eight operations. Now she is mentally preparing herself for another. Depression is a minor word to express what Rebeka feels about life. Five members of her family died in the incident of Rana plaza. She was sewing the last piece of a pocket during the one hour left of her assigned work. She was about to go to the canteen to join her mother who was a peon in Ethar tex. After recalling the last glimpse of her mother she felt hollow. The mother who sacrificed all her happiness for her, she could not even hug her for the last time. She could not find her body. No DNA test matches. No compensation. No consolation.Disabled Rebeka is hoping for nothing. Life has treated her in the worst possible way. She just wants to know why Allah punished her!

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It is not only that daughters like Rebeka are crying for mothers. Hundreds of mothers are each day crying for their dead daughters. Hundreds of mothers are still roaming around in front of Rana Plaza after nearly twelve months after the incident by holding pictures of their dead children. On the day of the accident Romila Begum (46) combed her daughter Lovely’s hair and requested her not to go to garment factory. Romila  continued, ‘I am afraid Lovely, do not go for collecting the salary today. I will somehow manage our today’s food.’ Lovely had a fight with her husband and after leaving three of her sons to her mother she left for the garment factory . And never returned.

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Clutching Lovely’s photograph at the site of the ruins, Romila fainted after saying, ‘My daughter gave her gold ring before leaving the house, and now how I will feed her sons and my family without compensation Allah!’ Ambia Begum who also came to join the demonstration by demanding compensation holds Romila. Ambia Begum harshly said, ‘You people will never understand our pains of losing children. Compensation isn’t charity, it is the right of my daughter’s blood’.

 

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But the survivors who lost one or legs aren’t very hopeful with the compensation they got from Government. Rehana Khatun (24) was a sewing operator of New Star Ltd. at Rana Plaza. She had been rescued after 20 hours and had amputated two legs amputated six days after the incident. She said, ‘two years ago everyone in the family was against me taking a job in the garment factory. I left the village after my father’s death because I wanted to give a better life to my two younger brothers. When I started sending money back home they all became positive. I bought gold rings and a television for the family. I became the role model for my village.’ By telling these facts Rehana’s face suddenly gets depressingly dark by adding, ‘I do not want to go back to the village. Conservative villagers already told my mother that I ruined my life because I wanted to be independent woman’.

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Rehana is not hopeful with the money the government gave her. Rehana said, ‘Interest of 1.5 million every month for two legs! But who will take care of me? Who will give this extra expense? I could have earned this money and have a good life at a lower cost if I were well. I want a way to run my life. I want a job that I can do in this situation.’

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For Yanur the 1st term exam is more important than remembering Rana Plaza’s anniversary. She believes that she will be able to forget those unbearable scars of her muscle injury. She believes that she will be able to remember all the word’s meanings of her English book. She believes that she will one day forget pains of her chest and the memory of her mother. She believes that one day she will recover from the trauma and will no more cry for no reason. When Yanur rushes forward with the sharp sound of that scary crack-crack of the wheelchair, everyone understands Yanur is going to the William and Marie Taylor School that is inside the CRP (Center for the rehabilitation of the paralyzed) hospital from the hospital hostel. Talking about her present condition Yanur was looking through the little window of her small cabin keeping her favorite book Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’ aside. She softly whispered, ‘I missed mom a lot. I have five siblings. Poverty forced my mother to seek job in Rana Plaza at Ether TexLtd. Two years ago she found the job for me there too. We together worked and she used to say after some years we all will return to village with our savings.’ Introvert Yanur has had no frienda other then mother Anowara Begum. They found her body in the building after 17 days.

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Anowara came to Dhaka with her family 18 years ago because of river erosion. Yanur’s father is waiting for compensation. He is coming every day to visit his daughter in CRP. For taking care of the five little children he recently got married. Speaking positively about her new mother, Yanur said, ‘What can my father do alone? He has to all the time take care of me. Our new mother is a little different from my mother. I am trying hard to accept her. Only it hurts a lot when I call her mom.’

 

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Now-a-days Yanur finds it hard to remember things. She has had a massive muscle injury in her left leg. She was in the emergency unit of Apollo Hospital for nearly a month. By touching Yanur’s new hair she sadly said, ‘I had long hair. My hair was under a pillar; my leg was opposite under another pillar. I heard people sucking each other’s blood in thirst. But I believed at that moment my mother was alive. After one month I knew she was dead. My father went everywhere for compensation and got three lakh for my mother and for me nothing.’ Yanur is trying hard to recover from her injury by attending physiotherapy. She wants to continue her education. Putting the English book on her lap she asked, ‘Who is responsible for my disabled life? I want to forget my scars, my right leg that I hardly can move; they said they will not give me money because I did not lose my legs. Can they imagine how bitterly I am living every day? I want to be well-educated; won’t they at least give me this opportunity?

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Nearly twelve months have passed since the Rana Plaza collapsed in Savar on 24 April, 2013 one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the world’s industrial sector. This tragic incidence has pointed to the fact that workplace safety and security for workers, even in the globally competitive RMG sector of Bangladesh, is far behind the required standard. An industry in which 3.6 million women are working in Bangladesh, a job which brings liberty for women. The total number of deceased is the same for most of the noted organizations and so far 1134 dead have been reported. The numbers of victims initially buried without identification, prior to the DNA test results, were 291. The Rana Plaza tragedy resulted in an outpouring of commitments from governments, local and global institutions, groups and individuals. According to some reports, each family of the deceased and seriously injured received up to a million Taka

 

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A Traveler’s Eye

‘I bet almost everyone in this structured world at least once in their life, feels like leaving their predictable complacent and comfortable surroundings and lose themselves in a chaotic, crazy and frenzied ‘nowhereland’. When I get lost in such a hectic adventure my pulse rises rapidly as I leave behind all the sober responsibilities that I have. When I leave to get lost in such an unknown destination I am transformed into a Gypsy. Most people of all countries of the world welcome travelers with love. Perhaps it’s because all of them are invisibly chained to their daily reality and seeing travelers makes them dream. That’s why when they see a traveler with a camera their smile says, ‘You lucky dog!’

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To go traveling, the one factor that pushes me the most is always photography. To get to know an unfamiliar world I go out to find a story of the people living there then interpret my journey through images. Travel photography reveals everything about a country, a region, a community, a culture, a person. It arouses interest in others to be familiar with the place, to go to the place, and to find themselves in the place’

– GMB Akash

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Travel Photographer’s Map:

There was a time when I put my globe on my reading table and imagined myself to be like Vasco da Gama. I wished to take pictures of the world with my small tiny black machine. Time passed by and I understood that if I open the ‘window’ of my map that my own country comes first and only after walking through it do I want to go to other countries. The importance of our Petenga beach in Bangladesh can be the same as being in Laos for me. The Dhaka mosque is an ideal setting with which to start shooting that prepared me for the intense inspiration that that I felt at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. However, it is not only desirable destinations in other countries that create excellent photographers. Even discovering one’s own territory provided the pleasures and excellent photographic results equal to those of a world tour. For those people who get the chance to travel outside their own world, their TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER’S MAP becomes like a puzzle to be solved. When you are aboard you like to take pictures of everything you see. Because when we are away from our known place a lot of questions arise in our minds. How differently do these people wear clothes? What do they eat? How do they travel? Where do they pray? Restless clicks of travel photographers start at dawn and last throughout the day in order to get all these questions answered in the form of images. If you can gather together all this answers it will become your complete travel story.

 

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Travel Photography pack light and with love:

Sleepless nights and unstable feelings are what a traveler photographer experiences  before a journey. From Cox’s bazaar to Switzerland my feelings are the same kind of restlessness before such trips. I admit that there are few people who are very calculative, well researched and who can follow their initial plan for their photography tours without becoming impulsive. But I belong to the first group. The thing with travel photography is that it’s dreadfully addictive. You want to go when you want to go, reasoning be damned. But you must practice some self-control and try to remain disciplined.

cernival in cologne, germany. february 2007

 

Try to carry the absolute minimum that you can. Why lug around extra devices in your already heavy back pack? My traveling kit consists of – a couple of dark t-shirts, three pairs of jeans, a hat, a belt with lots of compartments, a must-have torch, all in one knife set, a flame-less safety lighter, a camera strap, three-four hard drives, a laptop, a phone, and a tiny toiletries kit and my precious dairy book. That’s all.

 

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Hats off for bringing out your soul:

Congratulate yourself whether you are traveling within your native land or to a foreign culture. Not all people have the courage to step out from their comfort boundaries. The best thing travel photography can do is bring out your soul. On the first morning in a new place I wake up with the sun and get ready as fast as possible to hit the ground running. To know a new place, new people, new cultures morning light is blessed. Whether I am traveling to Sundarban, Bangladesh or the ancient ruins in Rome, Italy, my focus is on discovery. If your photography can discover the secret to enchantment of the place then you can depict your travels accurately through those genuine frames. Shoot the topic you find the most interesting. Shoot something that puts a deep mark in your heart and that will represent the place. Your story will be the invitation from that particular place that will attract anonymous people to visit it. So the rules are:

-          Surprise yourself by discovering a new place, a new culture, a new life pattern, different norms or simply different people

-          Create your album so that it presents something unique about the topic

-          Attract attention

 

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Always be alert and informed:

A new place invites new danger. When you are doing travel photography alone you must be alert about your safety. I have  faced a lot of such incidents that would have been life threatening if I had not reacted instantly. Whatever area or country you are visiting try to find out basic safety cautions. Avoid dangerous areas by finding out where they are from locals. Do not always trust taxi drivers. Try to skip night outings alone. If you introduce yourself to a stranger do not give your full information. As a travel photographer you have to be like a dog. You must be able to smell out both danger and images.

 

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Money and food matters:

Make a smart budget. In a new place there are chances to be cheated. I save for several months in order to do travel photography so it is important that I have my expenses broken down in order to help me to meet my budget. If you spend too much unnecessarily then at the end it will affect the quality of your travel experience and spoil your trip. Try to find out where to locate the cheapest but nicest places to stay and eat. Try to stay vigilant and not let people fool you. Invest wisely. And never compromise by not trying local foods. For example, in Nepal my morning starts not with bread but with MoMo the delicious local dumplings. Indulge in these small things which help you to integrate into the culture. Travel photography and the resulting work are never complete if you are not a part of the experience.

 

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Ground Theories:

Open up to new people – you have heard it more than a thousand times but I am going to add it one more time. First – in the new place, make observations. Second – go a little bit closer by taking random pictures of everything. Third – Start communicating, either with a local vendor, or children or shopkeepers. Start a conversation. Fourth – you will be automatically diverted to the most attractive thing of the spot that holds your attention as an outsider. Fifth – if a particular thing attracts you then spend a long time with it. Slowly but surely the people of the place will start to act normal and will go back to their natural gestures. Remember to look at a place widely and then begin narrowing it down one scene at a time. Finally you will find a beautiful discovery that is worthy of depiction.

 

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Restrictions:

Respect the situation. Know about the norms of the place. Learn a few local words to communicate. If you are in Shylet (Bangladesh) you can amuse people with your Shyleti words. If you are in Manila (Philippines) try to do the same. If you do not understand something sensitive, silence is the best way. Be polite when you are shooting women, young girls or teenagers. Never offer money after taking photographs. This is a very bad practice which creates long-lasting problems later. If you want to give something, give a gift. For example, I always carry chocolates for children.

 

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Now go! Feast your eyes:

Travel photography is something that you owe to yourself. If you are a good travel photographer then you know all genres of photography from landscape to street, people to culture. When you are traveling as a photographer try to be a person with whom people want to associate. While doing travel photography I like this attention because this interaction with people helps me to discover a culture and the people more intensively. Remember that you have to be constantly on your feet. I hardly ever take taxis because slow walking is the best discovery machine for which travel photography can be thankful. So let’s walk and start shooting.

 

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Dutch travel photographer Wil Thimister and GMB Akash are going to take  ‘A Visual Voyage’–by way of a Travel Photography Workshop 2-9 May. Whether you are a beginner, an enthusiast, or a professional, First Light Institute of Photography is inviting you to join the workshop on a truly amazing photographic adventure. Please send an email to akashimages@gmail.com if you are interested in participating. To know more details, visit: http://wp.me/p3F0uP-5W

 

 

‘Mystic domination of Pashupati’

The place is very well-known to me. But still this very familiar place is like mystery in many ways. I have been here for fifty times and my camera took every memory from each time of my visit. Apart it to me it is one of the most mysterious or the simplest destination that I was heading for 51 visits. At the side viewer of my taxi I saw buses full of Indian community queuing behind us. Telling numerically every day how many people come to visit this place is impossible.   I have reached to my destination, ‘Pashupati Temple, Nepal’. In one glance the place seems like it has taken a shower with morning glow. The magmatic light may never visible to me like this before. The flavor of the magnetic aroma by the near shop and flowers waiting in shops are always welcome signs for tourists.

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I do not like an easy way. I love to be lost. So, I did not enter the temple premise. I went inside a ‘Dhramashala’ nearby. In the yard of the ‘Dharmashala’ a lot of families made their spaces for themselves under the open air. They are tribal Indian who visits Pashupati once a year. All married women of all ages wearing anklet and a ring in the middle toe in dark toned feet. In the time of taking picture of a woman she burnt her roti that was in the pan. Her hungry child grabbed it fast before other four could take it. They do not understand Hindi, Nepali or English. Their children’s yelling and their tired faces described well from how far they come. I let them struggled with their rotis and leave for my next place.

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By taking pictures as like other times I entered to Pasupati with another way. In front of me the giant and impossible ‘Pashupati’. Hearing the rhythmic chanting and sounds of temple rings I kept walking inside. Before I normally could inhale the smoke and tart air a group of people suddenly bumped into the place by saying ‘Hari’ ‘Hari’. They are carrying dead body and going to the river side.  I started following them magnetically. Echo of some crying women made the atmosphere heavier, moneys those were throwing papers on people stopped for a while. A woman fainted when she went to give water to her dead mother. The dead body has been placed there ritually. Three dead bodies were preparing for their eternal ritual. Having mental balance to take photograph in such moment is tough. Having consolation for the family at the same taking picture is a toughest moment. In the time of great grief nobody bother about me or my camera. I started taking picture like an invisible person. No one look at me or ask to leave. I continue to capture moments of farewell.

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When I no more can bear the pains of people who kept crying in an unknown language I leave the place. I only notice those naughty monkeys when one of them tried to take my cap. They were following me all my way. After walking a while I meet my known priests. They are always same in the all years round. Their posture, ornaments and clothes remained same. The Hanuman with his mobile phone inside his box or the naked Shadhu all are always there in their right place. One of them loudly said with a smile ‘Bangladeshi Akash, Kaise Hau?’ During taking their pictures smell of different fragrant were coming along. I moved by  following it. I kept discovering Pashipati. Pashu means leaving beings, and Pati means master.  In other words Pashupati is the master of all living beings of the universe.

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I went directly to the hindu cremation ghat of pasupati. The same old fragrance welcomed me. Flames from fire, smoke and ashes were all around. Relatives of dead bodies were seating inside and outside in the premise. A dead body was ready for the final ritual. After putting all woods sequentially the son of the dead person set fire. Relatives were holding holy copies and kept chanting.

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Opposite of me I saw many photographers and people were seating in the staircases. The sound of spiting fire and woods kept haunting me. Ashes were all over my body. After two to three hours ashes only remained.

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When the place was preparing for another burial I saw a lot of young children below in the river collecting dead woods that threw in the river side. They are from outside Kathmandu Valley and living near the Pashupati Arya Ghat area regularly collect half burnt wood thrown to the Bagmati river after cremation, to sell to the brick factories located near Kathmandu. Before one of the Dhakal ask me not to take picture any more I Closed my camera.

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The sun was going away may be with all remaining souls. In the temple a religious music was playing. In this holy place in between of all this loses some people keep searching lives. Life and death is so close to this place maybe that’s why very very special – ‘Pashupati’.

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*** Pashupati area is regarded as one of the most important places of pilgrimages for the followeres of Hinduism.  Thousands of devotees from within and outside the country come to pay homage to Pashupatinath every day. Pashupati area is also included in the list of world cultural heritage.

‘Gift of Life’

Minu (10) was hesitating to take the doll. Our smiles work and she offers her right hand with a slight smile. When we gave her the new Barbie doll she quickly holds it with her two arms. Before we ask her to take a photo she flies like a bird with the sound of laughter and joy. Her innocent voice was up in the air, ‘Moina, Rita, Sulekha come, come, see what I have! Hey all of you come and see what they are bringing for us!’

 

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Within a few minutes the eyes of many innocents’ gathered behind us full of desire. Not even their clothes that lost their color from repetitive use nor their dry skin, nor their frizzy hair -  nothing could hide the glittering sparkle of their eye balls. Standing by one after another they looked as if they were dreaming of what we had inside the magic box. Suddenly to them we become magicians. Magicians who give surprise and joy. We become the hamiloner bashiwala. All of the children from the factories were silently following us. Some children were running from their factory with the safety goggles still on their eyes. Some stopped their cutter machine and kept waiting for our arrival at the factory door!

 

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When we offered the new car to Manik (10), he nervously asked his boss, ‘Sir, can I take the toy from Akash bhai?’ After the owner waved his head saying yes, Manik jumped to see what we had for him! We gifted him with the car he liked the most which he took in his hand colored aluminum from the factory. Edrish (11) was following us and whenever we asked him what toy he wanted, he smiled and said none. When we were about to leave the factory site he come in front of us and said, ‘Bhai, my age is not for playing. My younger sister has no toy; can I take a doll instead of taking my car?’ When we gave him both the car and the doll he started to dance in happiness.

 

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Alongside the rail line Razib (8) and his friends were taking a rest after carrying passenger’s baggage. We quickly put cars and balls in their hands. They reacted like they got electric shocks and their shouts of joy won over the sound of the train whistle. From Christmas Eve to until New Year’s Day ‘First Light Institute of Photography’ kept gifting new toys to child labourers, street children and unprivileged children of the country.  Their joy and happiness still fills our hearts  and eyes in such a way that no words could ever describe what we felt!

 

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Can you remember what your favorite toy was in childhood? How many times you cried to get a toy every time you were out with your parents? There are 7.8 million working children in Bangladesh who are having no childhood and who have no toys. Our school, First light Institute of Photography gifted more than 500 new toys to more than 500 deprived children of the society to inspire and to motivate them as well as to encourage them towards happiness.

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 Our deep gratitude goes to friends who generously contributed toys after getting the news on my Facebook page. Our heartfelt thanks to them for standing beside us. Thanks to Wil , Anja, Fakrul, Iqfat, Moinuddin, Mou, Sadat for their contributions of toys and Hridoy, Kakon and Tutul for their time in organizing and distributing them.

 

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 Give what you want. Want happiness? Make someone happy. Want courage? Encourage. Want love? Give love. Make your life blissful with blessings you are spreading everywhere.

My friends, I would like to invite you to visit our school website and to know more activities like above:

First Light Institute of Photography

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