House of Hope
In the Bengali language basha means ‘house’ and asha means ‘hope’. Basha is the house of hope we’re building in Bangladesh.
Basha opened its doors on 1 May 2011. That day fourteen women joined Basha’s Dhaka office ready to begin a new life. Three years later Basha had grown to include three offices in two Bangladesh districts, employing more than triple the original number of women.
Here, Basha’s founder Robin Seyfert tells the incredible story of how Basha came to be…
Railways and bus stations
This is where you go in Bangladesh when you have absolutely nothing. Here you can sleep on the platform with your blanket and few possessions. But these are also the places where life is cheap and flesh can be bought.
On a July night in 2010, two teenaged girls were preparing their beds on the train platform. ‘They’ll be in prostitution soon,’ Razia, my guide, told me. When I returned the next day, families were preparing food along the railroad tracks, while children played in the trash. One woman eyed me shrewdly, grown cynical from the nightly selling of her body in order to survive. Then out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement, energy, colour: three women attending a support programme for women leaving sex work were walking towards me. ‘Sister, sister,’ they called as they waved their storybooks. ‘We’re going home to practice our reading.’
Seeing the joy and hope on their faces in the midst of so many others resigned to squalor and degradation, suddenly I knew I could not just leave.
Less than a year later, a small number of women completed their time with Basha’s first partner organisation, Children’s Uplift Programme, and prepared to begin paid work with Basha, stitching beautiful blankets from recycled saris.
CUP had been providing a drop-in centre, medical care, counselling and life-skills training for mothers living on the streets in Dhaka for some time. But many women had struggled to find a livelihood because of the stigma attached to sex work and the trauma they continued to deal with. Upon completion of up to three years with CUP, Basha would now offer them alternative paid work and the opportunity to leave behind past lives for good.
The early days were challenging. Basha was a radically different environment from the one our new employees had known before.
Quality standards were a totally new concept and caused frequent quarrels.
But gradually our trainee artisans discovered that with diligent work they could earn a good wage.
As time passed, the sharp pain on their faces from past trauma was gradually replaced with peace and hope.
Growing business, growing dreams
In January 2012, Basha absorbed a line of jewellery and new branding, designed by Laura Bardwell working with a UK organisation, Oasis, in a nearby slum community. The opportunity to offer women a greater range of skills-training seemed so consistent with our vision to allow women to pursue their dreams and aspirations.
April the same year, we opened an office in a second Bangladeshi city, Mymensingh, employing women from Pobitra’s training programme. By Basha’s third anniversary we had more than tripled Basha’s infrastructure, administrative staff, and capacity to take on those for whom Basha exists: women at risk and survivors of trafficking.
Today, driven by the needs of the many thousands of women in Bangladesh who are forced into lives they are deeply ashamed of, Basha passionately continues to create alternative opportunities one job at a time – through sales of our life-giving, one-of-a-kind products.