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There was a time when Differently-abled Sirajul Islam went from door to door, looking for work. But no one gave him any work as he was considered "handicapped" by many.
At one stage, he went to India and got a job in a factory where flowers were made with shola. While working there he came up with a plan that would enable him to earn his own living and in the process create job opportunities for others like him in Bangladesh. After several years, he came back to Bangladesh with a complete training on how to make toys and items with shola. He set up a cottage industry called Regal Handicrafts and Dry Flowers. Around 50 differently-abled individuals work here. Flowers made with shola by the workers are sold at different outlets including Aarong in Dhaka.
Sirajul Islam is the son of Jamal Haq of Shahebganj bazaar under Faridpur upazila in Chandpur district.
Sirajul said, he took up a job at a printing factory in 1966 and worked as a composer at different newspapers. He became unemployed in 1980.
After several years he married Marjana Begum. He has four children. At one stage, not being able to find a job, he left the country in 1989 and took up a job in a printing factory in south Chobbish Pargana, West Bengal. Later, he moved to Kolkata. There he made flowers with shola for an Australian company in India.
Sirajul said that the differently-abled are neglected and often considered burdens on the society. He set up his factory in 2004 with the help of his brother-in-law who is also differently-abled.
Sirajul said that he gets shola from the canals. The villagers sell shola to him. Initially he trained five of the villagers how to cut the shola and how to make flowers with it. Gradually he managed to train over 100 of the villagers. Of them 40 were differently-abled.
He has set up another factory in Barobazaar under the same upazila as business picked up. At present the two factories have 100 workers, half of whom are differently-abled.
One of the differently-abled workers, Aklima Khatun, is a student of class VII. Her parents are day-labourers. Apparently her family members did not want her to continue her studies. With her income from working at Sirajul's factory, Aklima can now afford to study.
Sirajul said, "At present around one lakh flowers are made everyday." He added that these shola-flowers are in great demand in the market. The entrepreneur feels that if he gets financial assistance from the government, he can extend his business and create more jobs for the differently-abled.