Banchte Shekha – Bangladesh

Linked with Angela Gomes – Bangladesh.

I could not find a website of Banchte Shekha, but many texts about this organisation exist in the internet. Hereafter some of them:

Address: Banchte Shekha, Biman Bandar Sarak, Arabpur, Puratan Kashba, Jessore – 7400, Bangladesh – Tel: 0088 0421 73238. (found on basebangladesh.com).

A POWER SOURCE, ANGELA GOMES COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP: Her Banchte Shekha organization offers female-empowerment programs to more than 25,000 women in nearly 430 Bangladeshi villages. (full text).

The following article appeared in Women Transforming Communication, edited by Donna Allen, Ramona R. Rush and Susan J. Kaufman, as well as in Participatory Communication for Social Change, edited by Jan Servaies, Rhomas L. Jacobson and Shirley A. White. Both volumes were published in 1996 by Sage. POWERFUL GRASSROOTS WOMEN COMMUNICATORS: Participatory Video in Bangladesh, By Renuka Bery and Sara Stuart. (full long text).

What people are saying on technorati.

Banchte Shekha now operates from a 1.5-hectare training complex in Jessore, which accommodates two hundred live-in trainees and also serves as a women?s shelter. Twenty-five thousand women in 750 village-based organizations are active members. GOMES estimates that over two hundred thousand people benefit indirectly from Banchte Shekha’s comprehensive interventions in village life. Through its gender-awareness training and legal innovations, women and men alike are making their way slowly to a new era of gender equality. This is her great hope. Known for her dogged persistence and hearty laughter, ANGELA GOMES reminds us, ‘The problems of poor women in Bangladesh have been centuries in the making’. But Banchte Shekha’s successes are hopeful. And, she says, ‘Every day is a new day’. In electing ANGELA GOMES to receive the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes her helping rural Bangladeshi women assert their rights to better livelihoods and to gender equality, under the law and in everyday life. (full text).

The first women who joined Banchte Shekha started changing their lives the same way it is done today-by pooling their talent and resources and saving money. Their projects weren’t successful all of the time, but the women’s progress was steady. As one woman learned a new skill, she would pass it on to other women. Soon there would be a whole group in a village earning and saving money. The women of a neighbouring village would hear about it and want to participate too. But there were people who did not want such because they did not want to see the women improve themselves. “We had rocks and human excrement thrown at us,” says Gomes. “They said that I was a characterless woman because I was not married. They called us prostitutes and claimed we were trying to destroy Muslim family life.” At one point a sixteen-page indictment was drawn up against Gomes, accusing her of being a bad influence on the community. She fought the charges successfully, but decided to take the magistrate’s advice-he told her that she would be less vulnerable to such attacks if she had “a foundation under her feet.” In 1981, Gomes created that foundation by registering as a nongovernmental organization called Banchte Shekha. “The aim of Banchte Shekha,” she says, “is not to rescue women, but to help them learn to live.” Banchte Shekha teaches rural women a vast range of income-generating skills, including handicrafts, raising crops, poultry and livestock, fish farming, beekeeping and silk making (from the cocoon to the weaving loom to the printing). It also provides health-awareness programs, maternity care and basic schooling through adult education courses. Operating out of a 1.5-hectare training complex in Jessore, Banchte Shekha (meaning Learn To Survive in Bengali) is one of the largest women’s rural organizations in Bangladesh that offers female-empowerment programs to more than 25,000 women in nearly 430 villages, benefiting through them an estimated 200,000 family members. Working with their earnings and with financial backing from international aid organizations, Banchte Shekha’s members have formed village credit societies, lending money among themselves and providing instant cash in cases of emergencies. And, perhaps most radical of all, the organization trains paralegals – male and female – in Muslim law and associated legal procedures. In some villages, cases such as domestic violence against women, dowry disputes, child support and other gender-related conflicts are deliberated not by the traditional all-male mediation councils, but by arbitration panels including members trained by Banchte Shekha. As a grassroots organization by, for, and of poor women, Banchte Shekha is unusual, if not unique. Educated elites usually founded the development organizations in Bangladesh, and men most often run even those targeted at women but Angela’s success with Banchte Shekha is due to the fact that she is a village woman herself. “She is one of them, she lives with them and she speaks their language.” Banchte Shekha embodies Gomes’ belief that respect and empowerment begin at home. That means not just in the home, or in the village, but also within the organization. The philosophy of the organization is embodied in the autonomy of group members and groups, as well as by policies such as the requirement that each staff person must do at least one hour of manual labour every day. Although the leadership of Banchte Shekha is no longer exclusively women, the majority of field positions are still held by experienced women members, and Gomes has made a point of bringing village women up into key positions. Each of the major programs of Banchte Shekha has grown out of the felt needs of the members. They usually began in an ad hoc fashion. Angela is an example of what woman leaders can achieve in this country. Through her women members she has been able to demonstrate to a larger audience that there are strong, capable woman leaders here, and that they are addressing issues of concern with an impact even beyond their target organization. (full text).

In 1981, therefore, she set up Banchte Shekha (’learning to survive’) in a small way. She recalls her early years: “The women didn’t trust me at first because I was a Christian. They thought I wanted to convert them. Some women thought it was bad luck to look at my face because I had no children. I would try to talk to them about their problems and they would say ‘Where is the problem?’ They had all kinds of problems, but only I was aware of them.” Angela did what she could to dispel these doubts. She changed her name to Anju, invented a husband (who she said had gone abroad to study) and finally invented two children (who she said were “back in the village”). She also studied the Koran and comported herself in proper Muslim fashion. With no resources or staff strength to support her, Angela visited these villages alone and largely on foot. That wasn’t easy. Nor was gaining the trust of the villagers or resisting the vindictiveness of local leaders. One example of such opposition is the time when Gomes set up a sericulture program. Angela, with many other women, spent 22 days planting mulberry bushes on both sides of a railway track near Jessore. But some men, who did not like the idea of women organizing themselves, destroyed all the plants they had so painstakingly sowed. She was also accused of trying to convert Muslim women to Christianity, and of packing her organization with Christians – a charge she firmly refutes, with evidence that there are very few Christians in her organization. In yet another instance of sheer perverseness, some persons falsely claiming to be part of her organization, filed a case alleging financial irregularities within Banchte Shekha. However, a donor-instituted special audit put paid to those allegations, when it certified that Banchte Shekha is “an excellent and well-run organization”. The odds have been heavy. However, with patience and single-minded devotion to her cause, Angela has made a significant difference to the lives of lakhs of women in the country. Angela spoke to the women about the problems they faced as women. “Eventually,” she says, “they were able to see the thread connecting food, work, education and rights.” (full text).

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