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. 

Aparajita founder, Kalyani Rani Biswas. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

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.

At Aparajita’s Training Center. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

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. 

Receiving the Best Entrepreneur Award from the District Administrator and Upazila Chairman. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

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.

Production of earthworm manure in the trainee’s own home after receiving the training.
Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

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.

At the Aparjita Training Center. Photo courtesy of 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.

Interview with Nguyen Thi Nhat Anh by Sonia G. Astudillo and Dan Abril

The Centre for Social Research and Development (CSRD), a self-funded NGO based in Hue Vietnam, works to seek justice for vulnerable communities, especially women.  A team of four women with diverse backgrounds from environmental science, economics, and public policy, these women are passionate about seeing other women excel not just in Hue but also in their project sites in adjacent provinces in Central Vietnam and lower Mekong.

GAIA sat down with Nhat Anh, CSRD’s Director and one of the youngest directors in the network, to talk about their work and future plans. 

Nhat Anh is a GAIA-BFFP Asia Pacific Communications Officers Fellow whose graduate school thesis on water management motivated her to pursue environmental NGO work and leave her life in Hanoi to join CSRD in Hue city.  

What are CSRD’s top priorities?

Top of our list is women waste workers especially those in the informal sector.  We conduct action research to identify issues related to them such as a lack of benefit and support from the government.  Our focus has always been on women and how they are affected or will be affected by climate change.

Why women?  Because while Kinh women in Vietnam are a power within the family, they are almost always the most vulnerable in the community especially in the rural, mountainous areas and in the informal sectors.  

What are the main ongoing campaigns? 

We are doing research on the current waste direction in Hue city. This will guide us in our projects in the coming years.  In this project, we also have some activities to seek sustainable livelihood initiatives whose aim is directed towards a circular economy and supporting waste workers in generating additional income.    

In the past, we also conducted trainings on preventing sexual violence for women.

Aside from being one of the few organizations in the network working on women empowerment, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

One is promoting women waste workers’ role in Hue’s waste value chain, especially waste pickers in informal sector in An Dong ward through feminist participatory action research (FPAR). In the FPAR project, we treat our participants (women waste workers) as co-researchers. We try to understand everything about waste from the perspectives of women who are working directly with waste every day. After that, we can understand their demand and capacity to have suitable suggestions or support.

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

Last year, COVID delayed our activities and we could not work with the communities. We cannot organize the women and not everyone has gadgets to communicate and coordinate the work.  In 2021, the government too became so strict with people’s mobility because of COVID 19.  To overcome that, we partnered with the local government to organize the communities and it helped us move our work forward.  

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

Our landfills are filling up. There are waste treatment facilities near rice fields. Landfills in Vietnam are nearly filled.  Because of this, the health of the residents, including women waste workers, are impacted seriously from the waste leakage and smoke from burning waste.

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next few years? 

In the next 5 years, we still focus on climate change and waste management. Our target groups are still vulnerable women, not only women impacted by climate change but also women in waste informal sector. We also want to raise public awareness on the vulnerability of these women. They are strong women, but they still need empathy from others.

Finally, we also want to apply the concept of a circular economy in the Zero Waste communities and see it being applied in people’s livelihood.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

When I participated in the AP Comms Officers Fellowship – it changed my way of thinking. In addressing the waste issue, we can maybe start from consumption but let’s not also forget the importance of the production side.  Humans buy a lot in the inevitable trend of modern consumerism and it is not always easy to change their habits but we are trying with the communications campaigns on waste.  I think it is necessary to pay attention to companies and how they manufacture their products, and to make them accountable. However, we need to balance both sides, because without demand for unnecessary single-use items, we can lessen our use and production of it.

Education is the key, especially schools in the K-12 system, and even universities.  My young brothers see my behaviors and feel quite abnormal in comparison with their friends. But, luckily, they still form some good habits such as refusing unnecessary nylon bags. This is just a small example to demonstrate the importance of education at home and at school.  I think to make greater impacts, we need a Zero Waste curriculum embedded in the formal education system. Here, students can gain updated knowledge on sustainable development and global issues like climate change, and they also have chances to practise Zero Waste at class level. I believe in the youngsters, they are the future of our Earth! 

Along with this bottom-up approach, we also need to promote appropriate policies at school, district, provincial and national levels from top-down view. Policies pave the way for teachers’ initiatives to be replicated. However if teachers and students themselves don’t want to change, the policy, no matter how good, is difficult to implement effectively. Therefore, we need consensus from stakeholders at all levels. 

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

We work closely with the local government and the Vietnam Women’s Union, a socio-political organization that represents the voice of women, to promote policies and programs which bring better benefits to vulnerable women.  The Union is a mass organization in all levels, from central government to villages, and they play the role of implementer for so many policies related to women.  

We also work with other organizations in the region depending on the kind and sector of projects in progress.

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Our work with women waste workers is social justice.  Women waste pickers are informal employees and receive terrible income without social and health insurance. Women waste pickers contribute to the recycling sector and yet they are usually left to live in poverty.

We work to strengthen their capabilities and enable them to earn more income in a sustainable and circular way. There are lots of solutions all over the world, but the best solution are activities which meet the demand and capacity of local people and can be run by themselves. Therefore, local action is very important in our work.  

I believe that waste management is better for women because women are more in touch with the domestic path.  Women leading the waste management system can lead to better understanding and then better support to women waste workers in both formal and informal sectors.

Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

I admire so many people.  Everyone has strong points.   But it is women waste pickers whom I consider our silent heroes.  Not known but they contribute a lot to protect our Mother Gaia.  When I organize meetings with them, I feel their positive energy. Women waste workers take pride in their work, and know that this work not only caters for them but also protects the natural environment. Their tasks might seem menial but are for our Earth.  

A drop of water makes our ocean so we need small but regular efforts from every individual, especially waste collectors and pickers, to keep our Earth green.   


Interested in empowering women waste workers in Vietnam?  Check out www.csrd.vn and support their ongoing internal research on waste production to identify the value chain of waste, production, and consumption.  More funds can support other sectors that this all-women team want to investigate.  CSRD is a member of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance (VZWA),  a network of organizations and citizens who share a strategy for applying Zero Waste practices to better manage solid waste, reduce plastics, save natural resources, and protect Vietnam’s environment. 

Photos courtesy of CSRD-Hue