A Woman’s World by Lauren Farwell

Reflections on Metiabruz

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View from the iMerit center in Metiabruz

          In Weeks 3 and 4, we spent many of our days at the iMerit center and Anudip classes in Metiabruz. I have mentioned Metiabruz in previous posts as the very conservative, predominantly Muslim community on the outskirts of Kolkata. The beautiful call to prayer that rings out from the mosques in town makes me acutely aware of where I am- as does the predominance of the burka. Being foreigners, of course we stand out in any location, but there I am hyperaware of my gender and feel noticeably more uneasy than in Kolkata. And that’s just what I feel from the short three-minute walk from the auto-rickshaw to the doors of the iMerit center.  Last week, I had the chance to go deeper into Metiabruz to gain a better understanding of the community by visiting the homes and families of iMerit girls. What we knew of Metiabruz prior to this was only what we see on the inside of iMerit’s walls- colorfully dressed, talkative, confident, and intelligent young women hard at work.

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We were lucky enough to receive an invitation to visit the homes of two of the iMerit girls that I befriended on our first visit. Shagufta and Nahid are best friends, and naturally couldn’t have us visit one house without visiting the other, so our visit lasted hours longer than we had anticipated, and every minute of that time made for a rich experience. These two visits were separate from our work agenda, so we left our cameras and video camera equipment behind- and because of that, we found these visits to be beautifully personal and engaging.

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Mehuli Majumder

There is a phrase in India that the “guest is God”, and we truly felt that as the families pushed snack after snack and sweet after sweet our way. They insisted that we sit on the shared family bed, and gave us attention that we had not earned. Getting to be in their modest homes and to meet the parents and extended families of the girls we have befriended at iMerit was such a gift in itself, let alone the incredible hospitality. The next two interviews were more focused on interviewing the families for our projects, but we were welcomed just the same and shared stories and smiles with Wajda and Arfana, two iMerit young women, and their families. Anudip trainers Sarala Mishra and Mehuli Majumder came along to translate in Hindi and Bengali. Sarala and Mehuli are outstanding trainers- extremely intelligent, powerhouse women who challenge the Metiabruz girls with high expectations because they are truly invested in their personal growth. They are just two examples of the quality and strength of character across all of the trainers, employees, and administration of Anudip and iMerit.

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Sarala Mishra

The very day that we planned to visit Shagufta and Nahid, I learned that both girls had quit working at iMerit. Yet they hadn’t informed the company yet. Both girls were working the second shift at iMerit, from 1:30pm-9pm 5 days per week. They were both very successful. After specialized training, these girls can make more than three times higher than that of most jobs available in Metiabruz. In fact, after just a short time, Shagufta was already working on iMerit’s most important Catholic Relief Services project. Both of their families had decided they were out of the house working too much, and would rather have them at home more often. Both of their fathers echoed traditional views that women should not be working as such, so they made their daughters quit. It was a controversial issue and all of a sudden we were in the middle of it in the very presence of the fathers and families- and seeing firsthand what happens so often in Metiabruz when conservative views clash with progress. It breaks my heart to know how confident, capable, and bright Shagufta is, and to see her being limited in such a way. Wajda’s family, while appreciative of the income she is earning, would prefer that she didn’t work at iMerit. They allow her to because they so greatly need her additional income, but without that need, Wajda would be at home. I have so much respect for Wajda, who is actually a Team Leader at iMerit, and is excelling even without the support of her family. I find hope in the family of Arfana, who shows nothing but pride that their daughter is proving herself and is independent. Her mother and sister were all smiles when boasting about her. Ideally, this family is what the future of Metiabruz looks like. These four bold young women, along with 120 others at the center are paving their own future and shaping the environment as a whole.

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     Metiabruz, like many other communities in the developing world, is a man’s world. Slowly but surely, it is becoming a woman’s world as courageous girls are breaking the norms, becoming income-earners, and pushing the boundaries of traditional roles and expectations. The growth that has resulted in just 3 years since the Merit center was opened in Metiabruz is remarkable.

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Radha Basu, founder and CEO of iMerit speaking with the girls of Metiabruz

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” ~Chinese Proverb

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