Milon Chisim: the woman entrepreneur who elevates others

Not many women can smash gender stereotypes in Bangladesh, much less touch the lives of the rural poor. It’s all the more difficult to create a new narrative if they are from economically and socially backward indigenous tribes.
Milon Chisim: the woman entrepreneur who elevates others

But the story of Milon Chisim hangs out like an oasis in a desert. For, it’s one of bringing about real changes, of the refusal to play second fiddle to men, only to prove the adage that the ‘hands that rock the cradle can rule the world’.

Born and raised in the village of Askipara in Mymensingh’s Haluaghat, Chisim is proud of her Garo roots. Not only is she a well-known figure in her own community, but she also is an inspiration for the women of mainstream society.

She was recently awarded the MGI Bagh Bangla Aparajita Award 2022 for her remarkable contribution as a representative of the poor and ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. Her work has helped preserve long-lost traditional artifacts which add great value to the nation’s cultural history and heritage.

When asked about her struggles on the road to success, she told Hello: ‘‘It wasn’t an easy journey to begin with.’’

Chisim learned a great deal about the hardships of young girls while she overcame her own hurdles to finish school in Haluaghat Upazila. Witnessing their struggles firsthand made her realise that a majority of these girls skip or drop out of school altogether and get married off in their childhood because of poverty and lack of awareness. She wanted to do something; to transform lives.

While pursuing her higher education at Dhaka University, she noticed that traditional products hand-crafted by the ethnic groups were slowly getting lost amongst the generic goods being sold in the market. That is when she started working with artisans from Garo, Hajong, Santal and other tribal communities of Bangladesh to preserve her own heritage, along with those of many others, and create opportunities for all of them.

“I think that young girls can hope for a better future if they can produce and sell hand-made goods instead of sitting idle at home,’’ she added.

To help improve the living standards of women in the rural areas and revive the culture of handmade tribal goods for future generations, Chisim started her own business called ‘Tribal Crafts’ in the early 90s.

Besides running a successful business, she spends a great deal of her time encouraging underprivileged girls to get enrolled in schools to develop self-reliance and provide themselves with means of living.

Chisim’s tireless efforts have provided hundreds of indigenous women with just the right platform - Tribal Crafts - to sell their traditional handcrafted products.

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