Helping others help themselves

My Uncle Chuck has spent most of his life so far working for the steel companies in Detroit.  When they started to fall on hard times 5 or so years ago, hechose to retire and begin working for PIME Missionary in Detroit.  He has gone to India a couple of times, visiting the poor and the sick through mission activities. He has also helped to set up the Mission Store.  Following is an article he wrote to help share the story of the Mission Store and the people behind it.

The Mission Store continues to explore opportunities for our sponsors to help the people help themselves. Fr. Franco Cagnasso tells us of an ambitious group of young ladies from one of our missions in Bangladesh who have handcrafted some of the beautiful jewelry that has been marketed and sold through the Mission Store.

And the leader of this enterprise? Martha...a young woman of about 30 with two beautiful children - an 8 year old girl and 5 year old boy. And a cruel drunkard husband who is in jail.

Fr. Franco shares this story about Martha...

Some time back, Martha appeared at one of the PIME houses in Dhaka. Weak and pale with a high fever, and bleeding from a kidney operation that she had the previous day. The Sisters of Mother Teresa were contacted to address her needs. Having received the care that she needed, she left the Sisters only to return a few weeks later to say "thank you" and to offer some of her handicrafts in gratitude.

Born in the south of Bangladesh to a poor landless family, she came to Dhaka as a child with her parents and three sisters looking for a better life. Her father used to pull a rickshaw, work that killed him in a few years. Her mother collected wastepaper from door to door in an effort to make some kind of living, and the children helped by rummaging here and there along the streets. Martha and her sisters were fortunate to have learned a little bit of reading and writing that would help them along the way.

When her mother died, Martha took the lead, struggling like a tiger for her life and for her sisters, by doing any kind of work. One such job included housekeeping for a British family, where she picked up sufficient English to make herself understood. She read old fashion magazines, providing her with design ideas for handicrafts.

Martha lives with her two children, her younger sister Purnima (meaning 'full moon') and a colorful little group of girls whom she accepts in her small house when they get into trouble for any reason. She teaches them how to use a sewing machine, how to create Christmas decorations, to clean a modern house, to make rosaries and necklaces, and to print cloth for saris.

"With me," she says, "they often starve, but we starve together. I do not exploit them. They learn how to make a living...and they feel accepted."

Martha has a strong. simple faith. "I am a sinner," she says. "I tell lies... But only to survive."

She says that Pope John Paul II smiled at her in a dream. She keeps a photo of him in her house and feels protected by his prayer.

Martha and the girls continue their struggle. They put on the only sari they have or their best "punjabi" and go to sell their products in the rich areas of town, knocking at the doors of clubs, schools, fairs and exhibitions, convents and parishes. They keep cleaning houses, washing clothes, and occasionally being babysitters and cooks. From time to time, Martha is called to teach school children how to decorate their classroom or to prepare gifts for their parents. They starve when there is no money; they feast when they earn some.

PIME World magazine has supported the efforts of these ladies by offering some of their handicrafts in the October 2006 issue and again in this issue. Life is still difficult, but Martha and the girls are more confident and they boast: "We sell our jewels even in America!"

Help us help these hard working ladies help themselves through your support.

You can help Martha and other women like her by purchasing handcrafted, fair-trade gifts through the PIME Mission Store Online.  They have a nice selection of handmade jewelry, as well as handpainted Christmas cards.  All of the proceeds benefit the crafters and PIME Missionaries.

1 comment:

Jenny Kerr said...

They have some very pretty stuff (I love the blue and gold pillow) and it's all so inexpensive!