Rice paddies stretch across rural Bangladesh like an emerald patchwork blanket, dotted with clusters of small huts. Village life ebbs and flows with the seasons and those who live here are deeply connected to and dependent upon the earth. Few jobs exist for women, so those who are desperate for work must entrust their children to their grandparents care and migrate to the city to work in the garment industry. There they sweat long days, stitching together the clothing many of us wear on our back. They pinch every penny by living in a slum or hostel so they can send as much of their earnings as possible home to their families. Tired, lonely and vulnerable, these women are often taken advantage of in devastating ways. But, there is a growing network of more than 120 Hathay Bunano work centers throughout the rural villages of Bangladesh, where women gather daily to create Pebble toys. These centers are a stark contrast to the garment factories of the cities.
Pebble keeps families together. The women can easily walk to work and take their babies with them. If there is not a preschool in the area, Pebble helps to start one.
Their hours are flexible, so they can come in between household tasks. During busy harvest times, they can take the work home with them to work extra hours in the evening.
The women, many of whom did not have educational opportunities when they were young, are able to send their own children to school. Daughters, who are the first to be pulled out of school during times of financial difficulties, are now able to get an education. In addition, many young women are now putting themselves through college by working for Pebble, creating a new world of possibility in a culture where child marriage is quite acceptable.
Pebble creates safe and happy community. Instead of the loud and often dangerous machinery of the garment factories, the women here sit in a circle, with their bowls of yarn and crocheting needles as the breeze rustles through palm trees and the chickens cluck nearby. Here it is safe to laugh together, cry together, swap stories and help shoulder each other’s burdens.
Pebble does so much more than provide a fair wage for their employees; it brings a dignity that goes so much deeper. In traditionally patriarchal communities, women are gathering as a strong force and are being given a voice.
The future is changing for women in Bangladesh. As brightly colored threads of yarn glide through their fingers, these women are stitching together a future that is bright and hopeful for themselves and generations to come.
Since it’s humble beginning fifteen years ago, Pebble has expanded to employ between 12,000 -14,000 women and is growing daily. For more of the Pebble story, check out this video here.
Pebble is run by an amazing staff, including Rayhan Khabir, the executive director, pictured above.
Photos courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.