The tall wall of the boundary has separated the one-storey building from the din and bustle of Farmgate, one of the most crowded areas of Dhaka city. The green trees surrounding the house has created a serene environment there. A banner reads Jagoroni Showroom hangs at the entrance of the house. After stepping inside, one's eyes will be charmed by variety of showpieces, bags, sandals, etc. made of jute, clay and wood.
One will also find women and girls working there with an integrity.
Josephine Rosario is one of them. She is a woman of late fifties. Josephine lives in the hostel adjacent to the showroom. She came here in 1976 when she had nowhere to go. Since then it has been her home. The unmarried women employees of Jagoroni, who do not have any home, live here.
Josephine, an orphan thus found her home in Jagoroni hostel, siblings in her room mates, family in the sisters of Our Lady Queen of Apostles Roman Catholic Church and dignity in her work. Now, she not only just supports herself with the work she does, but also inspire others to turn their fates.
She said, "God has dictated the path for me."
Not just Josephine, a lot of other women like her think the same way about Jagoroni Handicraft Centre founded on 1969.
For example, Dolly, a disabled lady, has been working with Jagoroni since Sister Lillian, an associate of Our Lady Queen of Apostles Roman Catholic Church, found her working in a family as a domestic help without any salary. Dolly has been bearing the expenditure of her family with her income from her work in the centre since her parents' deaths a few years ago.
How it started
It is difficult to guess while you are in the showroom that there are contributions of many poor marginalised women behind this. It has become earning sources for more than 3,000 women across the country. Moreover, it has become a shelter to those unmarried women or girls, who do not have a place to live in.
It was before the Liberation War, when underprivileged women used to come to Sister Lillian, a young nun of only 24 years, for help.
"In our society, a woman's life is very hard. I have seen them coming to me after being beaten by their husbands, crying for help. They had no food at home," Lillian's eyes became teary while she was describing the situation to The Business Standard.
Their agony kept Sister Lillian awake at night, who then vowed to dedicate her life for the cause of the distressed.
But, she did not have enough money to help all of them.
She kept on saying, "I realised if we want to improve the situation, women have to know about their talents and become self-dependent. That is why I thought of doing something so that they can support themselves."
That time another American Sister named Francis joined her in this endeavour. Both of them came up with the idea of making handicraft products and selling them in markets.
But, how would they make handicraft products or tell others to do that when none of them had any idea of how to do that? Luckily, Sister Lilian got an opportunity to go on a training in Philippine, where she learnt how to make handicraft goods.
The Making of Jagoroni
Lillian started implementing her learning right after she got back in the country. They took jute as raw material considering its availability.
Initially, they started only with nine women, three of whom were disabled. Gradually, the team became larger.
Both sisters used to train women and assign them with work. Sister Lillian went door to door for selling the products.
Reminiscing those days, Sister Lillian, now director of Jagoroni, said, "We started working in a time when jute products were not popular. We had to reach buyers personally. Sometimes they rejected our products and I requested them for another chance. There were days when I went to sell our goods by a rickshaw over-loaded with products as we could not afford paying fairs for two trips. I used to sit in Gulistan market for hours waiting for buyers. Now, micro buses come to take our products."
There was no looking back
After Sister Francis left for America things got tough. Once Sister Lillian along with her workers starved for two days.
A Baptist Father named Peter Mcnee came forward to help them. He had contact with some foreigners, who were eager to buy jute products. By that time Sister Protiva, now assistant director of Jagoroni, joined the team. Under her supervision, the employees gave their best performances and their products won the hearts of the foreigners.
There was no looking back after that. The market kept increasing so did the standard of their work.
However, Jagoroni always remained focused on their motto of helping the marginalised women who need the help most.
According to Sister Protiva, "'We believe in equality which cannot come without women being self-dependent."
She thinks Jagoroni has created a positive vibe among rural as well as suburban underprivileged women across the country by creating employment for them.
More women now want to join the team to be independent.
Currently, women of 18 villages in different districts are working with Jagoroni. The organisation provides the deprived women with training of making different kinds of handicraft products at free of costs.
Jagoroni marches ahead with women irrespective of all castes and creeds. They always give priority to physically challenged women.
Jagoroni recently has moved from its previous location at just opposite the Holy Cross School and College in Farmgate to its present location in Nakhalpara road of the same area. This sudden change is affecting their sale.
Margaret Baroi, in-charge of the showroom, told The Business Standard to tell customers that they were waiting for them at the new location. "Tell them thousands of poor women are depending on them and invite them to our new place in Bottomley home no 3 gate," Margaret requested The Business Standard.