Cox’s Bazar is one of Bangladesh’s poorest and most vulnerable areas, with 17% of people living below the extreme poverty line, compared to the national average of 12.9%. More than 900,000 Rohingya refugees who are living in Bangladesh are unemployed and live below the poverty line in Cox’s Bazar camps.
BRAC, the largest non-governmental organisation in the world and also one of the biggest on-ground responder to the Rohingya crisis, has replicated the successful models from its social enterprises to develop the economic capacities of the Rohingyas.
This year, 2019, A sister concern brand of BRAC named Aarong, opened a production centre in Ukhiya near the refugee camps and settlements. It is the first of its kind in the region. With support from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, women receive on-the-job training from experienced trainers for six months and leave the programme equipped with skills in machine-sewing, hand embroidery, block printing and screen printing. They are given a “monthly stipend” to support them throughout the training period.
Programme participants are carefully selected to ensure that only Rohingya women living in the most vulnerable situations are included. Most of the participants were forced into early marriage, are widowed, or abandoned by their husbands. Many never completed school beyond the fifth grade. Others had no previous source of income and those that did, relied on agriculture on a very small scale.
Today, the Aarong project includes one main centre and five sub-centres operating in the host communities, as well as six training centres in the camps. In total, almost 400 women are now being trained, with a goal of 600 by the end of the year.
Rohingya women receive training in making both Bangladeshi and Burmese handicrafts, and then be given raw materials; the finished products are bought back and will be sold in Aarong’s retail stores.
The finished product includes embroidery pieces hand-sewn by refugees, along with apparel for children, men, and women, and household items. Everything handcrafted.
This following project seeks to reduce women’s unpaid care work, advance women’s business, transform discriminatory gender norms and practices, encourage higher incomes, and promote better access to and control over resources. Artisans will receive holistic development support from BRAC, including financial linkages, health insurance, regular health check-ups and retirement benefits.
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