Khushi Kantha ('Happy Blanket')
The mission of Khushi Kantha ('Happy Blanket') is two-fold:
-Empower struggling mothers within the impoverished communities hosting the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh y to generate sustainable incomes that allow them to provide for their children with dignity.
-Promote the recycling of cotton, thereby counteracting the devastating environmental impacts of the cotton industry.
The story so far......
I gave birth to twin daughters nine months ago.
Through my career in humanitarian aid, I spent nearly a year, including the first half of my pregnancy, in a place called Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town in South-Eastern Bangladesh. Once best-known for having the longest unbroken stretch of beach in the world, it is now infamous for another reason: despite being one of the poorest parts of a very poor country, the local population have welcomed nearly 1 million Rohingya men, women and children who have fled across the border from Myanmar to escape human rights atrocities.
While humanitarian agencies focus on supporting the refugees, the host community are struggling with falling wage rates, depleted natural resources, crippling inflation and other devastating impacts on their already precarious incomes. With child malnutrition rates similar among the two groups, I witnessed destitute mothers from the areas surrounding the refugee camps begging to be given some of the food aid provided to the Rohingya people.
I have a long-standing connection to Bangladesh, which is both professional and personal. I first moved there over a decade ago to work on a project that aimed to help extremely poor women get their households out of poverty by providing them with the means to earn a small income. I met my husband Masud in the first couple of weeks, we became friends and gradually fell in love….our relationship survived multiple long-distance stints and seemingly endless cultural differences, and we got married in 2013. We waited a while to start our family, as our careers in the aid sector have taken us all over the place.
I came home to London just over 20 weeks pregnant, instilled with a strong sense of wanting to do something to help the mothers I had seen experiencing such desperation – but didn’t know how to go about it effectively.
When my half-British half-Bangladeshi twins were born, we were gifted a collection of traditional ‘kantha’ baby blankets made from recycled cotton saris (‘kantha’ means ‘stitched cloth’ in Bengali). I was a bit overwhelmed to receive so many and wondered what we were going to do with them all!
However, I soon realised their numerous uses: from serving as swaddles when they were tiny newborns, to functioning as pram liners, sun shades, mini playmats or even makeshift changing mats while out and about.
The blankets wash really well and dry quickly.
Their bright colours and traditional ‘kantha’ stitching makes them really stand out. So different from the typical cellular blankets used in the UK, they draw compliments wherever we go!
I want to establish and support groups of struggling mothers from the communities hosting the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to produce a range of ‘kantha’ baby blankets.
We would be offering parents in the UK the opportunity to own beautiful, multi-purpose, eco-friendly items for their babies that have a story attached to them, and know that their purchases are:
· helping mothers on the other side of the world provide for their own children with dignity, rather than supporting the ‘sweatshops’ that Bangladesh is sadly so famous for; and
· promoting the recycling of cotton, instead of contributing to the destructive environmental impacts of the cotton industry.