Rozina Begum, a tea farmer in Bangladesh, tells the story of how Traidcraft and tea plants have helped her to make her dreams become a reality.
“From my childhood I knew that poor people had only one dream which is to be able to eat three times a day. I dreamt the same. I thought I would get to eat if I could get married to someone. I got married when I was thirteen. My mother-in-law had five sons including my husband. My father-in-law died when my youngest brother-in-law was just five. My in-laws were in terrible poverty; a kind of poverty which is not describable in words. When the men of the house were seated for dinner, my heart kept on trembling and I was worried they would ask us to get one more spoonful of rice. I would have to disclose that there was no more rice in the pot. When my husband used to ask me if I had had my dinner or not, I reluctantly nodded my head so he would not know that my mother-in-law and I ate only once a day.
I had only one Saree that I had to wash at night when everyone went to sleep. Sometimes I wore the wet Saree while sleeping. Even after working in people’s houses my mother-in-law and my husband could not manage to bring food back to our home. Our bamboo hut could not stop the winter’s cold breezes from coming inside. There were no beds and we kept freezing on the mud floor. In the rainy season we got wet sitting inside our only shelter and all of us remained quiet about that situation. Poor people cannot dream about having a place where cold breezes or rain are for rich people’s amusement. For us it is acute suffering.
Our dream was limited to eating something good like vegetables instead of rice and salt. Many years of festivals had passed. I did not have anything to wear outside so going to visit my mother’s place hardly ever happened. I continues to sew and fix the holes in my husband’s lungi and never dared to ask him for a new Saree. After enduring such suffering one of my brothers-in-law continued his studies. As he was getting education I understood that I had to clean his shirt with the only soap we had so I used it for washing his clothes. None of us washed out clothes with soap. He was studying therefore he had to eat more; I often kept my food for him. We continued to fight against cruel poverty. I had never imagined we had to lose a life in that battle.
My youngest brother-in-law Faruk (10) had fallen ill. He used to be with me all the time. I had brought him up as my mother-in-law was always outside for work. We had no money for his treatment. He used to ask for better food, often saying, ‘Bhabi (sister-in-law), I want to have a sweet.’ I used to weep while sitting on the corner of his bed. He left us with an empty stomach. I could not give him food or medicine. It still haunts me all the time. Without treatment Faruk went away for stomach pain but poverty did not. There was no house, nor ducks nor hens; we had no cows or any furniture. We were fighting against poverty with empty hands.
After that I got pregnant with our eldest daughter. I often went to sleep after starving a whole day. My husband used to give me courage saying that one day our days would change. He said that one day we would see the rare face of happiness. I left my daughter home with my mother-in-law and both my husband and I started working as labourers in tea gardens. Together we could earn 100 – 130 taka a day (around £1.15).
We got to know that there is profit in tea planting. I heard about Traidcraft. My husband and I decided to use our land for growing tea plants. Our soil is very good for tea planting. If we can dedicate 1-1.5 years of growing tea in the garden, it will give us leaves for 80-100 years. I received six training sessions from Traidcraft. The wheel of our life then started turning.
After 1.5 years we are now able to see the face of happiness. Now we have electricity. We built a house for 30 thousand taka and we built a kitchen. I have hens and ducks and five cows. Everything has changed miraculously. The tea plant is a miracle in our life. Now we have beds to sleep in. My mother-in- law has a separate room and I made furniture for the house. I bought a tea pot and nicely decorated the room. Now I can buy a Saree when I wish. We are providing all expenses for my two brothers-in-law. My daughter is going to school. I bought a new gold earring and my mother-in-law and I now eat meat most days.
We used to earn 3000 taka monthly; now we can earn ten times that. We now earn 30,000 taka each month and sometimes more. We bought new land. I had never played with any toys in my life, but now during Eid I bought toys for my children. Everything now seems like a sweet dream which is actually our reality. In my yard happiness now resides. I have a lot of dreams for the future. We have to fulfil the educational needs of our children. We also have to finish my brother-in-law’s education. We will construct a building. When money comes, dreams come as well.
My husband says that I am a big dreamer. Yes, I like to dream. Dreaming is hope; hope for an incredible tomorrow. I want to buy a red refrigerator so I can give everyone cold water in the summer. I want to buy a Television so they can watch cartoons which I never could watch in my childhood. My self-esteem and willpower have multiplied many times now. I am confident about my success and inspire to do more. I am one of the elected women members of our small tea growers association. I not only dream about myself or my family, I also think about my locality for my community. I want more people to be self-sufficient so no one goes to sleep with an empty stomach. Now people look at me with respect. They say though I had neither education nor experience I become one of their heroes. That makes me very proud. And this makes me responsible for them too. I want to educate my children and believe one day they will come forward to change the hope of the hopeless. My dream has come true, poverty has to be defeated.”