Train Track Life

Suddenly the inter-city train appears rushing at them on the tracks with its deadly noise which is the only thing that alerts the people. The scene includes a train that seems to be traveling as if to arrive at the slum but then ruthlessly goes right through it. It watches and touches both sides of the slum’s tin-roofs. Who could have ignored such g-o-t-a-n-g, g-o-t-a-n-g sound that raises heartbeats of the inhabitants of the Karwan Bazaar train track Slum in Dhaka on a daily basis… at least fifty times a day?

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People speculate that this train track-side slum had been built after the Liberation War of 1971. Though the slum does not seem too old, several inhabitants say that they have been living recklessly here for more than thirty years. Moreover, on both sides of the curvy train tracks that are lined with 1’000s of shanties, more than a hundred huts have been built in more recent times. Some of the smallest huts with only three foot high roofs rent for as much as 2000 taka (About $25). Those houses that are newly built with heights for standing-up cost 3000 taka (About $39) for a month.

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The muddy train tracks are loaded with wastage and leftover rotten vegetables. During an ordinary mid-day women are busy preparing lunch with difficulty trying to manage their mud clay oven cookers set up only one foot from the rail. When a train passes through anybody from the train could take away the potatoes that Marium Begum (35 years old) is frying in the pan. Marium says, ‘my eldest daughter is ten years old and I taught her how to save herself when the train rushes to our hut’. Marium clearly knows how much distance is safe for her two small kids. All children of the slum are well taught how to run away when a train arrives on the tracks. But a lot of times trains come simultaneously on both tracks and terrify the children. It happens many times from day to night without prior warning.

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Accidents are common and dangers are unlimited. The banyan tree root that grows from the hut of Kahinur is losing its leaves because many passengers who are riding on the tops of the moving trains are picking off the leaves for fun. It also amuses the slum children who have little to do. In this impossibly tiny strip of living space a lot of children lose their legs, hands and fingers in train accidents that take place in front of their parents’ eyes.

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Jaleha Kahtun says, ‘If we had something in which to live in the village, we would never come to live in this train track slum. In the village the river overflowed and took away everything and now here in the bazaar is everything we own.’ Jaleha Kahtun is a rotten vegetable seller in the bazaar. She has to go to work at 5:00 in the morning. So she lives in this slum that enables her to go to the bazaar as early as possible. All of the people who are living along the train tracks are climate migrants due to frequent flooding disasters in the country.

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Nothing has changed in their lives since they left their villages, but now at least they can feed themselves better. Sriti (15 years old) who is sitting in the middle between the two rail lines says, ‘We now understand how to act when a train comes. If you were in my place you might die without knowing where to go after seeing a train three feet in front of you. It takes experience.’

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When there are no trains all of the inhabitants are sitting on the train tracks, gossiping or arguing with each other. Children are playing here and there. To add some life to this atmosphere someone repeatedly turns on the music of popular Hindi songs. When Rasel (10 years old) starts dancing by waving his lungi and mimicking the song ‘Lungi dance’, Lungi dance,’ people near him also begin to move their bodies to the melody. But before Rashel shows his brilliant steps someone screams that the trains are coming on both sides of the rail lines. Nobody forgets to take their sitting arrangement away with them; children quickly move with their toys, a grandmother rapidly puts a pot over her vegetable curry to save it from the dust. Just like in a theater the trains get a stage upon which to perform for a few seconds and when they leave, all of the inhabitants return to their customary life on the tracks that have been occupied for more than 30 years.

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‘Smoky World’

The suffocation is unbearable in the dark. The smoke is so intense that you cannot breathe for a few seconds. When you will be able to see something then you will realize that hundreds of people are working attentively. Suddenly you will hear the sound of coughing by some small kids; very soon you will be discovering that half of the people working in the area are children, as young as they can be. The faster they work the more they get paid. But their production rarely increases and their payment remains in the same range: 100-150 taka daily for 12-16 hours of work. Still, all of them are continually trying to do the only job they know.

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Most of the poor villagers are dependent on this job. Small kids sometimes forget their surroundings and start to talk to each other. Parents swiftly scold them or punch them in their arms. Again the kids start to work and fill the local cigarettes (Biri). They know well that there is no value in talking but there is value in working. Children can deliver a quality production because their soft hands help them to do that without any wastage.

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These children learned the cruel reality of life first and then they learned work. They know feeding themselves is more important than going to school. ‘They cannot live with an empty stomach but they can live with an empty brain’, a parent biri maker said. Sojol echoed his father’s statement by saying, ‘I want to go to school. But school is for rich people. ‘

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Rani always feels a burning sensation in her eyes. While she is filling the cigarette she often touches her allergic eyes with her finger, which causes irritation and tears fall the whole day. Rani does not like to make biri, but she has been doing this work for three years.

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‘What are you making?’ the question was for Bablu, a nine-year old kid who innocently replied, ‘Biri..it causes illness. ’What illness?’ He again promptly replied, ‘Cancer.’ ‘From where did you heard that?’, with a brighter smile he added, ‘Television’.

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Workers toil at a hand rolled cigarette (locally called a biri) factory in Haragach. Workers have to labour from dawn to dusk making biris filled with tobacco flakes, earning very little money and in hazardous conditions which can damage their health. Children who work at the factory work from 9am to 8pm every day and are only paid 50 Taka (GBP 0.45) for making 5000 biris.

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‘An Invasive Mind: More on Street Photography’

‘Traveling to an unknown city, to an anonymous alley is always fascinating to me; mostly in order to stare at how life goes on! Stepping into a nameless street and sipping a cup of chai in its old bazaar is like a reunion of moments that are treasured in my memory tag! Street photography has unveiled secrets of eccentric daily life and it has always unfolded mystery that my heart aspires for all the time. My camera is my best friend and spending hours and hours along with it in those streets is so addictive that I am compelled to say that the best part of street photography is – you will never ever feel bored’ – GMB Akash

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Where to go?

Anywhere! Here and there or everywhere. Known or unknown. Seen or unseen. Do not calculate which place is convenient and which is not. Be very casual. Start your journey and discover things that you never thought would fascinate you. Keep one thing in mind: every street trip that you will make will be a unique one if only you can merge yourself within the flow of the street.

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How to overcome fear in the street?

It is very obvious that you will be very uncomfortable at the beginning. But after some time you will be okay with it. But of course you have to overcome your fear. You have to overcome the feeling that everyone is noticing you and you might have to face several rejections. Stay focused, accept rejections, enjoy walking and be very confident!

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One gesture to win hearts:

Please smile. Smiling is a kind gesture. It allows you to alleviate nervousness and it makes a connection with your subject. Whenever you are going to take a shot of any person, nod and smile.

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Communicate appropriately:

During street photography don’t talk too much but do talk a little bit. Small words, hello, can I take a picture, wow, great, fine, thanks small words. If you are going to make a long conversation, it happen often that some people might hesitate about your aim. In case you feel a longer conversation could bring out images then do it.

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Handle yourself wisely

Be very confident in the street. Act like a professional. Feel like you have been doing it for many years. When you will be confident then the people around you will feel confident about you. Finally you will face less rejection.

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Introducing yourself to strangers:

You will meet three kinds of people in the street:

a) Persons who are very welcoming about taking images.  You will definitely explore this opportunity more. While meeting them you can feel it easily so it will be very comfortable for you to take images with time and to experiment.

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b) There are some people who hesitant. They will not refuse you or say no to you directly but you can feel a discomfort. Then it is your responsibility to make them comfortable. Greet them, talk about the weather or simple things about yourself and you will discover after few minutes they will be more at ease.

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c) Go away faces. They are very challenging and you have to respect your subject. If they do not approve of taking their pictures you have to respect that without feeling bad. The most you can do tis o make them understand that their images are fully secured and you are an aspiring photographer. Talk to them about your passion and dreams. Even after that if they say NO, just accept it. We cannot force someone to do anything!

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Take a companion:

If you feel very uncertain and discomfort about shooting even after trying hard then ask a friend to accompany you for a few days. Sometimes company can make your street trips easier.

Daily life in Kathmandu, Nepal. 2006

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Never Hesitate:

In street photography there is not much time to waste. You cannot spend a lot of time just for one shot. It is full of capturing decisive moments for capturing. If you get an excellent shot for a moment, do not get time to ask permission. Just click, then you can talk afterward and explain it. If you hesitate the person in front of your camera will hesitate. Never hesitate.

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Learn to understand people and situation:

A great attribute of any kind of photographer is when he/she can understand people. After being experienced in the street you can feel that you actually can understand what a stranger is feeling about you. Slowly you will understand people and their minds. It will help you to deal with any kind of situation in the street.

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I have already shared a few experiences of mine and some advice in the Street Photography Category of this blog. Have a tour if you want to know more about the topic.

Instructor:

I teach street photography for The Compelling Image: The Compelling Image: Online-Interactive Courses in Photography and Multimedia Storytelling

If you are interested in joining my street photography course sign in: Street Photography

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‘Meet the Invisible’

‘Everyone used to say he is my bad luck. Everyone blamed my child as a reason for an unknown misery. They predicated I might have to spend my life crying for him. I did not say anything to anyone. When at night I saw that he slept at my arms and his innocent face filled my heart with the greatest joy! He has made me understand how colourful, vibrant a life can be! The years I am passing with my son are the best times of my life. When I go out and he always  holds the corner of my dress and I feel someone is there for me. Someone who will never live me alone. My child is reason of my life. I brought him into this world but this autistic child has made me feel how beautiful life is! With pride I can say if there is another life after death I will again want to be a mother of such an autistic child!’ – Mother of an autistic child Nitin that I meet in Nepal Airport

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Only a mother can feel it but sad is the society that is blind and heartless! Although there is no official data in Nepal, it is estimated that out of 12.8 million children under the age of 18, there are about 117’000 known autistic cases. The Nepal Times reports that “While physical disabilities can be seen and easily identified, autism is ‘invisible’. In order to avoid facing society’s imposed shame, parents often lock their children inside the house. Despite giving them love and affection their children face this cruelty.

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A generous smile and gentle hug cure many illnesses and by getting love these children might have hope to live. But when society is searching abnormality in normal people how many of them can get such kindness! How many souls can care and give them shade from the scorching sun! My photographer-activist friend Pallav Pant introduced me to a school that is continually working hard to give autistic children hope for life.

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I went to visit SSDRC (Special School for Disabled and Rehabilitation Center) It took seven days for me to say good bye to them. Every day I went there to spend some special time and every day I cried when I went back to my place. Inside the classroom it has written on the wall , ‘Work with Desire, Serve with Smile’. In the morning when I stepped inside the classroom I heard children are praying, ‘Oh God made me healthy, wealthy and wise!’Their day starts with positivity and with smiles. When I was taking picture suddenly a boy pushed his nose in my camera glass. I offered him my hand for a handshake, then he brought his two hands together and said, ‘Namaste’!

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A small girl ‘Nur’ was repeatedly making some meaningless sounds. The closer I got to take picture of her, the she higher she made her vocal sound. When I said sorry to her, she came closer and touched my hair to stroke it! When I was taking pictures I was lying on the floor and suddenly Angkit came and sat at my back. The girl named Sajni who was opposite of me had been copying me all the time. When I laughed she laughed. When I took pictures she mimicked me as if she was taking pictures. How rapidly my time has passed and I did not realize it. From a stranger I became a friend and I did not feel any more that they are different than any other children! Their repetitive behavior made them more special. Their teachers and the Principal are trying hard to make them capable, to give them the power one needs with which to deal withs society. Their continual efforts are proving that if there are people like those at SSDRC there will be no more invisible children in society.

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Every child of SSDRC is special. Teachers have to handle all of them differently, individually. When Sajni becomes hyperactive Tara miss sings a song a favourite song of Sajni and after repetitive hugging the child became normal again. Abu keeps crying all the time but his Anju Miss knows how to make him smile. It is evident that if we learn to care for every special child personally then they will get a normal life.

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When I was observing how Abu stopped crying Vashkor hit my camera glass. Vaskor is in Class D and he is the most challenging child among all. Vashkor cannot talk. He hardly listens to his teacher. But after long seasons for the last two years his aggressive behaviour has changed a lot. To enter into these children’s world we need to feel their hearts. Beside Vashkor naughty Binaya is used to doing what he determines to do. When I first met Binaya I saw him hit a ball for a hundred times in the court, and when he could pass through the hole for the first time he noticed me. Who said, these children cannot do anything!

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Among them there is Probin, who remains silent all the time. The past of Probin was pathetic. The founder and principal of SSDRC found him chained inside his house. His parents live in a slum and because of taunting by the community they chained him up for many years. Now Probin has changed a lot. But teachers are giving him special attention to heal his heart. Probin shook my hand and I saw a drawing behind him, a child inside a cage and written, ‘Save me!’

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With some limited resources the  young Lady Sabita has been working hard and alone to establish this school SSDRC. She ensures  giving special attention to every child. From breakfast to lunch, evening snacks to transport, she is maintaining everything on her own. The small donation the school gets is not enough for the stuff and everything else . But teachers who are serving here are determined to serve, not to earn. Sabita said, ‘I came to Kathmandu from a very small town. I had to face great struggles in my life, and even I am capable and educated. Therefore, I realize how hard it is for these children who are actually invisible to society. I was determined to do something for them. I dedicated my time and whatever money I inherited. These children are my family. Still now I don’t have any child but all the time I feel like a mother. Mother of such a big family. Their laughs, their cries, their hugs give me strength to fight against all odds. I will continue to be beside them no matter what difficulty I may face!’

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On the last day of my visit when I was passing class A, girls and teachers were making bangles. They sell these bangles to visitors and this money goes to the food fund. To tell me goodbye most of them were looking through the window. Angkit came and suddenly gave me a hug before I could catch him he went quickly away I saw on the back of his T-shirt what was  written:

‘I will do everything

In my power’

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If you want to help and support this children please send an email to: sabitaupreti2@gmail.com

 

‘Voyage to Varanasi’

I left everything behind. The unbearable noise of some angry young men, the screams of an unknown crowd as well the very loud train station fans and their monotonous melody, all were behind me! I was running at such speed that if my friend didn’t hold on to  my bag tightly while pulling it, I might have fallen on the floor along with the porter who was magically carrying six-seven bags! However we safely arrived at the train departure platform. Once again I promised myself never to photograph just before a journey as every time I forget the schedule and have to rush like I did that day.

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Between hundreds of trains I was searching my Vibhuti Express. The destination is Varanasi. I pushed my head forward and suddenly some small fingers held my hand. We were both scared! The small child mistakenly holds my hand. We laughed together! We all were searching the desired Vibhuti Express. I felt a great thirst to take picture in this super busy station with its very very interesting compositions that were calling me. But then reaching the Vibhuti Express was more important than any composition. It is a known truth that when you are anticipating something with all your heart it will never come easy! The train is three hours late!

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My friend closed his eyes and was resting a bit. I was resting my eyes by watching people. To see people up close and from a distance is my old habit/hobby. I was praying that the train might arrive earlier so that I could explore Varanasi in the early morning. I was afraid that I was going to lose the morning light. In front of me everyone was rushing recklessly. They were scared to miss….scared to lose…scared not to reach. But finally when they were seated in the train, they were all looking behind again and again. All of us love to go ahead, but we also feel happy to see behind us. To know how far we have come! The nagging old man sitting beside me laughed for the first time; yes, the much desired ‘Vibhuti Express’ finally arrived!

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We departed the station at 8 P.M and were supposed to reach Varanasi by next morning 8:00 A.M. But the excessively slow train took 22 hours and we reached our destination at 6:00 P.M in the next evening. I knew I had lost the light but still there was some hope to catch a bit of it. I jumped out as soon as the train stopped. But there is something called luck and it had decided that I am going to have a slow day. The puller of the rickshaw that we took was driving round and round, and just as slow as our train had been. It took 45 minutes to reach a distance that normally takes 15 minutes. I was so sad when I opened my hotel room’s door. I went directly to the window and after opening it I slowly whispered, ‘I can wait my entire lifetime to take images of such colour, such an old place, with such mystery that no words can properly describe it!’

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Next to my window four eyes were curiously looking at me. A monkey couple was wondering about me so as I was of them. They were hand in hand. I smiled and try to offer friendship but they were confused and then they were holding hands even tighter. The night was falling and I was writing beside the window. Suddenly I saw the couple looking at me through the window glass, so close that I could touch them. Our friendship was established. Before I went to bed it started raining. While closing the window I saw, under magical light that the monkey couple were sleeping while embracing each other! I stood for some moments. The world’s most fortunate people are those who get their loved one by their side. And the most unfortunate are those who never get the chance to feel the warmth of love!

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I wake up at 3 A.M and I was in the Galis and the Ghats of Varanasi by 4 A.M. There I was – in Varanasi, the place that magnetically attracts me all the time. I started taking images enthusiastically. Varanasi – the land where experience and discovery reach the ultimate bliss. This is the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and magnificently compelling places on earth.

 

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I felt brilliantly alive there. Its sights, sounds, and colors brought me immediately into a different place; absorbing me into its endlessly fascinating spectacle of ritual activity. It is situated along the west bank of the holy Ganga River in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. It is considered as the holiest place amongst the Hindus. It always seems a magical place to me. The spiritual Ghats (steps down into the river) and the alluring Galis (a maze of narrow alleyways) are my main enticements.

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Because of the rainy season the stairs of Ghats were under water. Ghat’s are the series of steps leading down to a holy river. In Varanasi, you will find around 100 Ghats. Each of the Ghats has different name, history and importance. It is quite interesting to walk along the Ghats especially in winter. But during this visit I spend time discovering Galis. Extremely narrow; the play of lights and shadows inside a Gali is very interesting. But I was very alert while I was entering inside unknown Galis and I suggest not going alone.

 

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Since Varanasi is one of the holiest destinations for Hindus, it is very common to find various rituals going on throughout the year in this place. But my fascination was the people and their portraits. Streets of Varanasi are full of many enticing stories. I shot the whole day. Still I did not find enough time to click at as many subjects as I wanted to.

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On the last day of my visit it was raining in the morning. I went out in the rain by just covering my camera with plastic and my head with a handkerchief. I was going to leave this city which is considered to be over 3,000 years old. The majestic light was shining behind the clouds. I saw astonishingly how gracefully the morning light removes all the dirt from the sky. While watching this I wished all the sorrows and suffering of the world would end like this with the light of humanity! To be able to discover such light I could  come back here a thousand times and I would not mind another 22 hour voyage to return to magnetic Varanasi!

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‘EID Respect’

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Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat ― Mother Teresa

I believe an affectionate smile, an overwhelming hug can cure illness!

We start our journey to find our lives that deserve our affection, attention and respect. On the occasion of the biggest festival ‘Eid’ in our country there are elders who are living miserably in the yard of their houses. Many of them can not speak, some cannot see and others are counting their last days. These respected elders are living their lives like burdens to their poor families. Maybe for many of them this Eid will be their last festival. We set out our journeys to give them some sort of happiness, to give them a surprise and to show them respect.

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Amena Begum (80) lives in the village Pechayain. She cannot speak. A year ago after her heart attack she is unable to move her right hand and lost her voice. For her poor family now she is an unwanted person. Her bed has been shifted to the open kitchen outside their house. Amena Begum has no idea when the Eid comes and goes but she try hard to see people passing her yard though she can not see anything clearly. These last days of her life are filled with humiliation and loneliness. Like her there are hundreds of elderly women who are suffering silently.

 

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In the upcoming Eid festival we want to show respect to our elders. Women who fought throughout their lives without expecting anything. Now even in the last days of their lives they are suffering miserably; being unnoticed, unloved, uncared for. Finding them and giving them a small gift has been our mission during this festival.

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I went to the villages of Varat and Pechayain. And by the help of my friends and students we found elders who needed our attention, affection and respect. These elderly people cannot go out for asking help. So we reached their doors with our gifts. We gifted sarees to these helpless elderly women in some villages to bring out smiles on their face. To make them feel that they are not alone.

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The smiles in their face, the sparkle in their eyes, their affectionate touch on our heads give us the feeling that , there is happiness in the act of giving and caring.

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Let’s speard our arms, lets walk upto their doors. lets bring out smiles in the faces of the unprivileged! May this Eid festival break all bricks of inhumanity. Our small attempt is to go and find these miserable souls . Giving them a small gift, showing some respect and touching their feet makes us feel fortunate. Elders are our pillars. Lets make them even stronger!

Eid Mubarak to you ALL!

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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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