This year the Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF) has 112 large pavilions, 128 mini pavilions and 243 stalls of various categories. But Pavilion – 5 "Maitree Shilpa Products Exhibition and Sales Centre" stands out from the others.
Visitors go to this pavilion with great interest because it is run by people with disabilities. It offers a wide range of over 100 handmade products that have been made by physically challenged workers.
The pavilion has been set up by the Social Welfare Ministry which also supervises the "Sharirik Protibondhi Surakkha Trust" which runs the pavilion.
This is the second time that people with disabilities are displaying their products at this fair.
On a visit to the DITF on Monday, and to this pavilion in particular, this correspondent found that buyers were very positive about the items they had bought. Almost all the products, prepared by the physically challenged, were attractive and impressive.
The pavilion, which is next to the VIP gate of the fair, displays various types of essential plastic products, and the 100 percent safe Mukta brand bottled drinking water.
Over 100 types of plastic goods including plates, mugs, bowls, containers, buckets and jugs are available there. Buyers will also get a discount on products at the fair.
A 500 milliliter bottle of Mukta water is sold for only Tk9 instead of the regular price of Tk15. A 5-litre bottle of water is sold for only Tk50 instead of Tk70. Other plastic goods are also available at wholesale prices.
All the eleven sales personnel at the pavilion are physically challenged.
They said that even though they sell their goods at a cheaper price than other competitive products, they make sure the quality is high. This is why visitors buy them in large quantities.
Moreover, people also want to buy these products because they have been made by physically challenged workers.
Sirajul Islam, a visitor at the pavilion, told The Business Standard, "I knew that disabled workers produce Mukta drinking water. But I didn't know that they are also made so many plastic goods. The physically challenged people working at the Maitree Shipla pavilion have shown that they can also contribute to the economy."
Another visitor named Subhas Chandra said, "People with disabilities are playing a role in the national economy by making plastic products that have a high demand. They are also becoming self-reliant. People who still consider the physically challenged to be a burden on society are ignorant about the work they are doing."
"They are no longer a burden on society. They are now a resource for the country. The government and the concerned department should support the disabled and help them advance," he added.
Buyers and visitors were also surprised and concerned to learn that there is no specific arrangement for marketing these products across the country.
A banker named Enamul Haque, who came to buy some things from the pavilion, said that the authorities should make these goods easily available in markets all over the country.
It will make the disabled self-reliant and will also enrich the country, he added.
Saiful Islam, head of marketing of Maitree Shilpa, told The Business Standard, "Maitree Shilpa is mainly an industrial firm favoring physically challenged people. It is run by the Sharirik Protibondhi Surakkha Trust under the Social Welfare Ministry."
The unique characteristics of this organisation are that most of the officials and workers are physically challenged, and the money earned by selling the products are spent on the welfare of disabled people, he added.
"New initiatives are being taken to make the items produced here easily available in markets across the country," he added.
He said the Sharirik Protibondhi Surakkha Trust and Maitree Shilpa were established at Tongi Station Road in 1981 with financial and technical assistance from the Social Welfare Ministry and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
"The organisation is known as 'Maitree Shilpa' as a mark of friendship between the two countries. The organization was run by the Social Service Department after it was set up. In 2012 it was brought directly under the Social Welfare Ministry," said Saiful.
There are 111 workers at Maitree Shilpa and, except for 20, all of them have physical, speech, auditory and partial vision impairment.