APARAJITA: CHANGING WOMEN’S LIVES
Interview with Kalyani Rani Biswas by Samina Khondaker
Aparajita began with the goal of empowering women and ensuring that they had equal environmental rights. On March 8, 2017, Kalyani Rani Biswas, the organization’s founder, embarked on this path with little manpower and a heart full of dreams, ambition, and drive to empower women economically, mentally, and physically.
Kalyani Rani Biswas noticed many women living in poverty and uncertainty. She recognized at that point that this could not happen. So, in order to make them self-sufficient, she began working with them, starting with sewing and gradually progressing to preparing spices and vermicomposting. Vermicomposting was chosen since the majority of the ladies were from a farming background and found it simple to cope with, and cow dung is one of the greatest raw materials for vermicomposting, with which they are already accustomed to.
Currently, around 37 active individuals are working for Aparajita in various parts of Magura in order to help women become psychologically and physically independent.
GAIA sat down with Kalyani to know more about their work.
What are the top priorities of Aparajita?
Aparajita is now focused on sewing, spice preparation, and vermicomposting, although vermicomposting is their major priority. Work has been done in Magura Municipality Wards 4, 7, and 8, as well as Changardanga village in Magura Sadar Upazila. We are trying to spread the word about vermicomposting across Magura Zilla and, if feasible, the entire country.
The spices come next. Women from the organisation prepare around 1,500 kilos of vermicompost each month, which are purchased by the local Spice Research Institute and the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA). The organization also retails these spices to the local community.
What are the main ongoing campaigns?
One of our continuing campaigns involves waste workers. We are training them to separate the waste they collect every day into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and to dispose of it in a specified location. The biodegradables are later used in vermicomposting.
Sewing is another one of our ongoing initiatives. We stitch clothing and sell them at the local market, and people make a livelihood from it.
And spices are already an active campaign for us, since we prepare and sell them on a daily basis.
What would you consider are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?
One of our organization’s most significant successes is that around 25 houses in our neighborhood are effectively doing vermicomposting. Because of this, the soil fertility of that area has grown significantly, as has the soil’s water holding capacity, and fertilizer needs are being satisfied. After viewing the results, many farmers are interested in doing vermicomposting. As a result of this successful endeavor, Aparajita was awarded the best organization award, and I was honored for entrepreneurship by the Department of Cooperatives.
What challenges are you facing? How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Aparajita suffered tragically. Earthworms with a BDT 3 Lac value (approx US$3,233) perished due to a lack of staff and extreme heat! During the pandemic, lockdowns were implemented around the country, preventing individuals from going out to work. The organization’s workforce was dwindling at the time. In the midst of the pandemic, we had to endure a loss of BDT 3 Lac.
Aside from COVID, we faced several hurdles such as the difficulty of persuading community members to work with earthworm and cow dung, two key vermicomposting supplies. We had to convince them that 10 kilos of raw cow dung may yield 7 kilos of fertilizer. If this is sold in the market for BDT 20 (US$0.22) or at retail for BDT 15 (US$0.15), they may make a respectable profit and transform their lifestyle for the better.
People were eventually convinced after our persistent campaigning, and they are now working and earning more than before!
What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?
Because of climate change, we are facing many issues such as untimely rain which is creating waterlogging that is completely destroying our field and the products it contains such as paddy, rice, etc.
How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next years?
Aparajita views the organization’s growth through vermicomposting not just in Magura Zilla, but throughout the country. This would benefit not just the country, but also the farmers who are living in poverty. This choice will allow them to generate a respectable income for themselves while also creating opportunities for others.
What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?
Waste has become a major issue for all of us. If our administration does not handle this properly, the implications might be disastrous especially when it comes to our respiration. This will not only impair human health but will also have a negative impact on the ecosystem. It is about time to properly manage waste, all types of waste. This will not only result in a healthy environment, but also in a habitat environment.
Sorting waste at its source is highly crucial and effective. Wastes are effectively handled, waste workers’ health and the foul odor of waste will not affect the environment.
Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?
Aparajita collaborates with ASD Bangladesh. Together we conduct different training and events related to organizational projects. ASD Bangladesh, also based in Magura, provides manpower and conducts training sessions for Aparajita.
How does your work on waste relate to social justice?
We have always tried to work for the betterment of the community and society. We try to make people aware of the negative impacts that an issue might have. We have a theater group when we go on awareness campaigns in villages. Drama or play is one easy method that works because it has both audio and visual. This helps us gauge the community’s opinion on the issue and see their enthusiasm towards the advocacy.
Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?
Aparajita always admires work related to soil and farmers. We are interconnected and these days, it is a growing concern that we need to work on. One of the organization’s motto is ‘Krishok Bachle, Desh Bachbe’ (If the farmer survives, the country will survive)’
We also admire those working against plastic pollution. We would love to contribute to this movement in the near future.
Interested in supporting the work of Aparajita? They need additional support for:
- Vermicomposting (mostly with resources such as creating a shed for the compost, for buying earthworms, and other resources)
- Collection and sorting wastes through 3 compartment vans which will help them to sort wastes easily and work safely.