I became pregnant with my half-British-half-Bangladeshi (and 100% cheeky!) twin daughters while working on the humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh.
I couldn’t stop thinking about all the opportunities my daughters would have, compared to the children of the mothers all around me.
Having first moved to Bangladesh in 2009, to work on a donor-funded poverty alleviation programme, it had been my long-standing dream to use everything I’ve experienced and learned over the past twelve years to start my own initiative, creating opportunities for other mothers, whose position I could so easily be in myself if circumstances were different.
Mothers supporting mothers
Once famous for having the longest stretch of unbroken coastline in the world, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is now best-known for another reason: hosting more than 900,000 Rohingya men, women and children who have fled across the border to escape human rights atrocities in Myanmar. During the nine months I was based there, working with Save the Children, I was struck by the endless generosity and compassion of the Bangladeshi mothers from the communities hosting the refugees.
Despite struggling to provide the basics for their own families, they were offering everything they could to support the Rohingya people. One mother shared the story of how she had shared some vegetables with nearby Rohingya families, as she had heard that children were not being provided with enough vegetables during food distributions in the camps.
The birth of an idea
I came home to London determined to do something to support mothers in Bangladesh who were using every resource they had to give their children the best possible start in life.
But I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
When my daughters were born, we were given a large collection of traditional kantha baby blankets, lovingly handmade by my Bangladeshi mother- and sister-in-law, with support from their local community.
Kantha refers to the tradition of mothers repurposing their old cotton saris into ultra-soft, multi-layered blankets for their babies. The distinctive embroidery stitch they apply over the top is known as ‘kantha stitch.’
I was so touched by the incredible gift….but I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to find a use for so many blankets!
However, I soon learned that they could be used for pretty much every item on my daily to-do list as a parent – besides used in the nursery and pram, I used the blankets to keep my girls warm in a sling, as a mini playmat both at home and in the local park, or even a makeshift changing mat when the need arose while out and about!
And I was getting compliments wherever we went – people loved the blankets’ vibrant colours and striking kantha stitching.
I realised that there could be a market for them….and this was how I could create opportunities for other mothers to provide for their children with dignity.
From vision to reality
I’ve spent the past year and a half pouring my time, energy and heart in turning my vision into a reality.
Setting up a social enterprise operating between the UK and Bangladesh during a global pandemic has been a challenge, to say the least. For example, we’re initially establishing production in Dinajpur, North-West Bangladesh, because it proved too challenging to set things up effectively in Cox’s Bazar from a distance under current circumstances. Quality is really important to us – we don’t want to be relying on ‘pity purchases!’
But my journey as a social entrepreneur is nothing compared to the struggles the mothers I’m partnering with are going through on a daily basis, just to provide the basics for their children.
Khushi Kantha (which translates as ‘Happy Blanket’) is partnering with mothers in North-West Bangladesh to create sustainable, multi-purpose baby blankets, hand-stitched from reclaimed and ethically-sourced cotton and embroidered with empowerment.
We’re reworking the traditional Bengali kantha technique to meet global hygiene and safety standards, while retaining the principles of ‘reclaim-repurpose-reuse’ and bringing the cultural heritage of Bangladesh to a wider audience.
Our handmade blankets are crafted from six layers of 100% cotton. The outside layers of a Khushi Kantha are made from traditional artisan-made handloom fabric, dyed using certified colourfast natural dyes. We’re partnering with sustainably-minded members of the garments industry Bangladesh is so famous for to breathe new life into ‘deadstock’ cotton fabric, by upcycling it to form the inside layers of our blankets.
A global community of mothers
When you become a mother, you become part of a global community of women who will do everything they can to give their children the future they deserve.
On the 22nd of April (International Mother Earth Day), Khushi Kantha launched a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign. Our aim is to raise £10,000, so that we can train the first group of mothers, purchase raw materials, and make, safety test and transport our first collection of Happy Blankets.
By contributing to our campaign, you can help lay the foundation for a sustainable social enterprise, creating opportunities for mothers in Bangladesh to provide for their children with dignity. We’re offering a range of exciting rewards in exchange for contributions!
All mothers want to give their children the best start in life – with your support, we can start to build better futures for the next generation.
As Ramadan is coming to an end and we all look forward to Eid. Now is a great opportunity to support a worthy cause. Khushi Kantha are very close to reaching their target but it would be incredible if our mamas could help them to meet or even exceed their target.
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