The inspiration for founding Proshanti was my mother. My mum was the example I base my life on. That’s why I feel so strongly about motherhood. My mum was involved with the independence war in Bangladesh; a few times they wanted to kill my mother and the rest of us, they lined us up to kill us, they even tried to burn our house down… so many struggles she went through! She was a very brave woman, she didn’t give any information about my brothers; she told the army that they would have to kill her before they could kill her children.
After the war, my mother started doing voluntary work in the village, one of the things she helped with was maternal healthcare, for the really poor people. She was helping with births, counselling mothers, arranging some finance for when the baby was born. She was a really strong volunteer in the community.
She died suddenly in 1993, of a heart attack. My mum had always wanted to set up a college for women and girls, there wasn’t anything at that time; but it didn’t happen in her lifetime. When she died we decided to do something for women’s education, and we started up a college. It has 700 students now. We wanted to do that in my mother’s name.
When I came to London I saw there were a lot of difficulties for the local Bangladeshi community; lots of women are not in education, they don’t speak very good English either, so I started doing voluntary work just like my mother. Working with others, over the last 20 years, we’ve helped set up the Bromley by Bow Centre (BBBC). My mum would be very proud if she knew about it.
I wanted to take the BBBC team to my hometown in Bangladesh. When we went to Juri, the local people found out we had a doctor and a nurse with us from the UK, and they started queuing each morning to receive some treatment!
When we came back, we decided to found Proshanti. Since then, we’ve identified that the women and children are particularly vulnerable, they’re often housebound and they don’t have enough communication with others. There’s a hugely male-dominated culture in Bangladesh, sometimes it’s hidden but it’s always there. Women don’t have much of a say, even when they are pregnant, every decision has to be made by men. So we wanted to focus particularly on maternal healthcare. We need more volunteers and resources to continue to support these women, through Proshanti.
I hope that people viewing these stories will take away some important knowledge to help future generations; I think that’s really important. I hope, too, that people will donate money to Proshanti, to secure the future of women and children in Bangladesh.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by twoFaith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.