While serving as a Research Officer at the population development and evaluation unit of the Planning Commission of Bangladesh Government, Ms. Dilara Kibria had switched gear in her career in 1981 and joined Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) as a Deputy Manager of its management information system (MIS) division. This change of priority in her career demonstrated her keen interest and devotion to the flourishing of small and cottage industries in Bangladesh. She subsequently proved her mettle in the sector by serving as the Assistant General Manager, Deputy General Manager and finally, General Manager-cum-Project Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme of BSCIC between 1986 and 2003. She also creditably served as the Secretary General of the Dhaka North-West branch of Bangladesh Federation of Business and Professional Women (BFBPW), headquartered at Bailey Road, Dhaka, for over 12 years from April 2001.
Ms. Kibria was born in the village Hossainpur under Chatkhil upazila of Noakhali district in the then British India, officially in 1946 (as per matriculation certificate) but actually in 1943. While still a student of Class Six, she was married off to a cousin named Golam Kibria (later civil servant and joint secretary) in 1956. In a brief introduction to her memoir, noted litterateur Ashraf Siddiqui writes: Shei Ami is a book of reminiscence by the skillful writer Dilara Kibria. While reminiscing her childhood, she has written about all her family members - parents, husband, children, especially about her childhood memories of Akhaura and Laksam (Cumilla). We get a clear picture of Akhaura, Laksam and Cumilla of that era by reading the book. She has beautifully depicted the places of work of her late father and also of her EPCS husband. She has talked about her husband's professional career; life in the then West Pakistan and particularly of ordinary people of those places; her fellow students at schools, colleges and universities.
The writer has skillfully narrated in the memoir her childhood, adolescent and colourful days spent in Noakhali, Akhaura, Laksam, Sunamganj, Kushtia, Cumilla, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the thrilling episodes of her family's escape from Pakistan via the mountainous terrains of Peshawar and Afghanistan, her struggles in completing her education, advancing her career while catering to the needs of her family, the travails, pleasures and pains in promoting the cause of women entrepreneurship in the small and cottage industries sector of Bangladesh, glimpses of her retired life and so on.
While recalling her days at the Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme (WEDP) of BSCIC during 1980s and 1990s, she recalls: "I used to travel for inspecting the project field offices along with the deputy manager Rabeya. We had to go to Rajshahi and Dinajpur by railway. I did not feel bad while sitting on the river-ferry for long four hours. Upakul Express was our mode of transportation for visiting Noakhali and Cumilla. But we had the option of flying by plane for going to Jashore, Khulna, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar. For Sylhet, we travelled by express train. The WEDP officials used to receive us at the airports, railway stations or launch-ghats. We used to go to Pirojpur, Barishal and Patuakhali aboard 3-storey launches. The scenes of rivers during moonlit nights were wonderful to watch, when we sat on the deck at night and reached our destination the next morning".
"We came to know about many tales of distress and pain suffered by the hardcore poor women in the remote areas of the country. Alongside making efforts for alleviating their suffering, we visited many famous sites like the ancestral home of the epic-poet Michael Madhusudan Datta on the bank of Kapotakkha River in Jashore, the Kuthibari of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Thakur at Shilaidaha of Kushtia, Mahasthangarh of Bogura, Ranibhaban of Natore, Shalban Vihara of Moinamati in Cumilla, etc. We retraced our history while visiting those places. We also enjoyed the sea-beach of Cox's Bazar and the sunrise cum sunset at Kuakata sea-beach of Patuakhali".
The author, however, regretted that the WEDP programme was not converted into a bank (WEDB) despite such a recommendation put forward by the 'Report on Institutional Options for WEDP' in 1999, which was prepared by the renowned consultant Omar Chowdhury. The sponsor of the programme, USAID, had proposed back in 1997 that it should be transformed into a legal entity or trust, as that would enhance its dynamism, reduce procedural complexities, save expenses of the government and make the programme self-reliant. Workshops and brainstorming sessions were also organised on the subject. But the USAID stopped funding for the project at that juncture due to the short-sighted stance of the then government. The activities of the programme did continue for five more years up to 2002 through financial allocations from the government, but it was ultimately shelved during 2003-04.
It may be mentioned that WEDP was the only programme in the industries sector of Bangladesh that was directly linked to women entrepreneurship development. It was the first programme that supported female entrepreneurs with larger amounts of loans than micro-credit. The highest ceiling of loan was Tk 60 thousand and the support services included pre-investment counselling, extending assistance in project appraisal and feasibility studies, providing credit facilities, imparting training and extending marketing cum technical support to the entrepreneurs.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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