Village Phone Lady passing happy life

June 27, 2007 | By Editor | Reply More

Village Phone Lady Helena is in a pose of conversationMukhara, Bangladesh: I have an intention to visit villages to find out the rural development. As part of this, few weeks ago I have visited a rural hinterland village named Mukhara to see the present state of Helena.

Helena? You may ask me question that, who is she? Well, Helena is a Village Phone Lady who has become an entrepreneur. Now she is a ward commissioner also. Helena passed a long struggling way to come this present life style. You need to move three years back with me to know the saddest and hopeless part of Helena’s life.

Before three years, I have visited Mukhara which is a rural hinterland village situated in the northwest part of Bangladesh. It was my first visit on that village. Like other villages of the country, rich and poor people live together in this village. Some people are the owners of big auto-rice mills and some are day laborers of this village. Usury is also prevailing in this village, at the same time hunger and starvation affects the people. I met with Helena in this village when she was just passing out from her hard and hopeless life. When I asked about her past life, she replied, “once, I lived here in a tiny house with my child and two sisters. Immediately after rainfall the floor of my house was flooded by rainfall. The roof of the house was made of leaves and straw. The wall was made of mud. Even in the day, darkness covered the house because there was no window of the house. There was nothing except some dirty clothes, some hanging jars made of jute rope, an aluminum jug and two-earthenware plate. Although, there was some firewood nearby chula (burner). Three or four years ago that was my living place.”

But while Helena was giving interview to me, she was standing on the balcony of her four-room tin-shed building which was made with her own income. I came to know that Helena was a victim of early-marriage. When I asked her about it, she continued, ‘My father was a day labour. We were eight children (Six sisters and two brothers) of our parents. Can you imagine, how much painful situation! How a family like this can run by one day-labour’s income. So, my elder sister and I took departure from family and we took shelter of my uncle’s house. I had a chance to take  education but my elder sister was quite illiterate. Due to over-burden of family, our uncle gave us early marriage together”. I found frustration in Helena’s voice.

She continued, “My husband was an unemployed, illiterate and lazy man. He had no work to do. Even he had not a piece of land of his own to stand on it. Fortunately, my grand mother had a straw-made house. She donated it to us. Us means me and two of my sisters. That was our house I mentioned earlier. What was the nature of your husband? Helena replied, “My husband started to torture me immediately after one week of our marriage. Within few days, he also stopped giving me any kind of expense. At that time, he got a job as a day-labour in an auto-rice mill and didn’t come home regularly. He didn’t take any care of my activities, my movement and me. In his working place he was busy with other girls. If sometime he had come home, he tortured me even for any minor wrong. After one year of our marriage, I bared a female baby. This baby added my misery of life. But on request of villagers my husband  started to provide me fifty taka (less then one US Dollar) per week. But the amount was so small that I was not able to provide my family.”

This was my life!

Did you take any job to save your baby and sisters ? Helena replied, “due to extreme poverty, I had to work as a made servant in neighbors’ houses. In the meantime, I bared my second male baby.” What is the changing part of your life? Helena replied, “When my boy was in infant stage, Grameen Bank entered in our village. I and some other poor woman started samite (woman’s small association). Since then, gradually I started to improve my condition of life by taking micro-credit from Grameen Bank. When Grameen Bank offered me a mobile phone for call center business, it seemed to me as an “Aladdin’s Lamp”.  

Aladdin’s lamp!!! How it works?

Helena replied, “After getting mobile phone, I purchased 20 decimal of land from its income. My leafy dream house has turned into a tin-shed building. My daughter Nasima and son Rubel are now reading in college. Now, I can provide their educational expenses. Grameen’s mobile phone has brought about a change in my life style. It’s a magic lamp to me. This lamp offered me solvency, gave me a certainty of fulfilling my dream and hope of happiness.’

Helena get that mobile phone under the Village Phone Program (VPP) which is ManagedHelena is giving tailoring training to a deprived woman by Grameen Telecom in cooperation with Grameen Bank and GrameenPhone. This program is providing telecommunications services in rural areas all over Bangladesh. Commencing its operation in March 1997, the VPP is a unique initiative to provide telecommunications facilities in remote, rural areas where no such service was available before. It has brought about a quiet revolution in mobile telephony in Bangladesh, by putting cell phones in the hands of the rural poor, many of them women, who had never seen a telephone before.

Few weeks ago, I visited the Village Mukhara again. I met with Helena, a happy and wealthy woman. There was no frustration on her face. Success has made her more confident than before. Now, she is a woman entrepreneur. She is running  a deprived woman’s tailoring training centre in her village. Few women of this village has become self depended by taking the training from Helena. She told me that, “I realized the actual pain of hunger and starvation. After a serious struggle I have become self-reliant. So, if other poor people become self reliant through struggling, I have nothing to feel jealous about this. Instead, I become highly satisfied at their jolly appearance which I don’t get anywhere in the world. This is not the end.

When I was coming back from the village, Helena informed me that now she is a Ward Commissioner of Boraigram Upazila (sub-districts). She is a elected ward commissioner of her area. The benefit of Village Phone was worked like magic lamp in Helena’s life. She received Village Phone in the year of 1999 and she is earning a lot through it. The Village Phones work as an owner-operated pay phone. It has created a good income-earning opportunity for the VP operators, mostly poor women who are borrower members of Grameen Bank. Typically, a member of Grameen Bank takes a loan to buy a handset and a GP subscription and she is trained by Grameen Telecom on how to operate it.

A soft touch of ICT brought solvency for Helena and turned her into an entrepreneur. As per the Information of GrameenPhone, there are more than 260,000 VP operators in over 50,000 villages in 439 Upazilas (sub-districts) of the country. Amongst GP subscribers, VP operators yielded the highest average revenue per month. Findings showed that this modern technology has increased the social standing of the Village Phone Lady. The various studies have found that one of the most important contributions of Village Phones was to make market information accessible to all. It has also substantially empowered the women from the rural households, who can now access numerous services provided by the government and non-government organizations through a simple telephone call from her village. This effort is changing the village life of Bangladesh.

 (Note: Bengali Copy of this Article was published in Technology Today)

Category: ICT for Development, Knowledge for Development, Rural Women

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  1. Global Voices Online » Bangladesh: Changing Lives | June 28, 2007
  1. pepa g. says:

    amazing! beautiful story.

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