Gultaz is a fighter, discovering a way to provide for her family despite once being illiterate and completely baffled by numbers.
Today she is a successful entrepreneur, loving mother, caring wife, and mentor for other women. The changed woman lives with her family in Patenga on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, just to the south of Chittagong.
Her success hasn’t been easy.
“It was 28 years ago,” Gultaz begins emotionally. “I was a new bride and my husband was injured in a terrible cyclone in 1991 and couldn’t do any physical work. Our whole family only saw darkness around us. My three children were crying for food and growing up malnourished. Sometimes, we had no food at all for one to two days.”
Given his injuries, work for Gultaz’s husband, a day laborer, was rare. His wife to struggle alone. She was frustrated and often depressed.
"My three children were crying for food and growing up malnourished. Sometimes, we had no food at all for one to two days."
“On the one hand, there wasn’t enough food, and on the other, there was a lack of clothes,” she continues, before beginning to cry. “I went to my father’s house to get help with clothes and food, but nobody did anything.”
A devoted wife, she didn’t complain and hid the deepening crisis from relatives, fearing they would lambast her husband for not providing for his family. But she beat the odds, emerging as a stronger woman.
In this way, nearly a decade passed until Gultaz joined a World Vision development group in 2000. But as she couldn’t read or write, she wasn’t welcomed by the other members. Sparked by her rejection, Gultaz took and passed an adult literacy course supported by World Vision, much to her husband’s surprise.
Gultaz then took part in a range of different workshops covering functional literacy, health, nutrition, embroidery and tailoring, with her tenacity meaning she was top of many of the classes.
With hard work, the business thrived, so much so that Gultaz, now regularly employs 28 women.
Next, she applied her newly acquired skills by setting up a small business. At the start, she just made a few simple dresses, selling them door-to-door. Bangladeshi women are generally expected to stay at home, however, so many disapproved of her wandering around the neighborhood.
By that time, World Vision knew of her dedication and potential, offering to assist her build a dress shop, which she called The Touch of a Dream. The entire family then helped to grow the business, including her husband as its record keeper and cashier.
With hard work, the business thrived, so much so that Gultaz, who belongs to the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Chittagong, now regularly employs 28 women and 300 people are involved in the process, from purchasing and packaging to marketing and distribution.
"Gultaz is now a symbol of an empowered woman in the community and has inspired hundreds of women to stand up and make their voices heard."
The products are very popular in Patenga and even in other towns and cities, while the income means Gultaz can meet the needs of her children, who are all doing well in school and full of dreams.
The eldest, Hossain, could have ended up as a laborer like his father, but is now poised to take over the business and plans to study to expand it further. In fact, Hossain even turned down a job offer in the Middle East, a dream opportunity for many boys his age, preferring to help with the business and be with his family.
Meanwhile, his sister, who was destined to be a domestic maid or young wife, dreams of being a professional singer and his brother desires to be a lawyer to ensure the poor achieve their rights.
Despite her success, the entrepreneur remains humble and gracious. She recognizes she was given a gift and wishes to share her blessing with others by training local girls in embroidery and garment-making and revealing her marketing strategies.
A neighbour, Salina Bahadur says, “Gultaz is now a symbol of an empowered woman in the community and has inspired hundreds of women to stand up and make their voices heard.”
Story and photos by: Md. Golam Ehsanul Habib