Artisan Impact: Rishi caste in Bangladesh
Rishilpi, a nonprofit, nongovernmental development organization in Southwest Bangladesh, was founded to improve the lives of people of the Rishi caste.
"Rishilp" is formed from two Bengali words, "Rishi," denoting the caste, and "shilpi," meaning artist or craftsman. Rishi, traditionally leather workers, for centuries have lived at the margins of Bengali society. Generally landless, with no easy access to schools, many struggled in a continual search for work to survive.
In addition to income generation, Rishilpi conducts relief and development work in rural communities in Bangladesh. Benefits to artisans include education sponsorship, health care, microcredit savings programs and early marriage prevention support for their adolescent daughters.
Suphia’s life has changed dramatically in the last twelve years. When her husband left her and her only son became sick, Suphia was left destitute and without hope. A cousin referred her to Rishilpi.
Throughout its existence, Rishilpi has promoted the idea that job creation is the key to alleviating poverty. Its activities are mainly focused on women, the most oppressed and exploited members of Bangladeshi society. In Bangladesh women are exploited both economically and socially. Rishilpi has improved the human and socio-economic condition of many distressed women through job creation, health and nutrition projects. The organization also works to raise women’s awareness of their rights.
Today Suphia celebrates consistent work and a steady income. She participates in a savings program and takes an adult education class. Her son goes to school and she dreams of the day when he will complete his education.
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