With little employment except subsistence farming, life is tough in Tangail, central Bangladesh. For most women there, it is even tougher. But Francila Nokrek stands out from the crowd as an example of what enterprise can do. With the help of her local parish, St. Paul’s in Pirgacha, this Garo tribal Catholic has made a handsome living from her hand loomed traditional clothes. Her designs are eagerly bought by both tribal and Bengali people. But she had no extra advantages at the start; it was as tough for Francila to beat the poverty trap as it would be for any of her neighbors. Her parents had nine children and could not afford to pay for continued education. Like her siblings, she dropped out after 8th grade. “I could have ended up as a rural housewife like the other women in my community, but I had a dream to be self employed,” she says. “I lived with that dream and made it true, not only for myself but also for some other women.” After leaving school she worked at a series of places that produced clothes and handicrafts, learning her sewing and craft skills along the way. But without being able to amass any capital, her hopes of setting up on her own remained far off, until the local Church lent a hand. “The Church was planning to do something for unemployed women, when Francila came to them and expressed her desire,” says a spokesperson for the parish. “Her ambition and determination were so convincing, the Church decided to help her.” Francila’s own hand looming business duly opened in 1997. Today it employs 14 rural tribal women and takes around US$ 1,000 each month; a respectable turnover for this part of the world. “We’re really proud of Francila,” says Maloti Nokrek, the president of the Achik Michik Society, a group for local tribal women. “Her center not only employs rural women, but also helps preserve local culture and traditions.” Francila says she hopes her efforts have helped others. “I want to see more women become self employed and gain financial independence,” she says. “I try to help the survival of some of our declining cultural heritage and I hope other people will be encouraged to do the same in future.”
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