Volume 2 Issue 34 | May 24, 2008 |


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From Insight Desk

Vision of Beauty

Rafi Hossain


Years ago there were a large number of beauty salons and Chinese restaurants, most them run by Chinese expatriates. Over time these businesses were gradually taken over by local entrepreneurs and the industry flourished. One such prominent salon is Persona, owned by beautician-entrepreneur, Kaniz Almas Khan.

Noticing her success, I approached her about the possibility of her working with Insight. She asked me how. I proposed that she might conduct beauty workshops outside Dhaka, in some of the districts all over Bangladesh. In these workshops she could teach her beauty techniques to students, many of who could take it up as a profession. Our Reader's Club would certainly help in any way to make this possible. I was certain that by doing this she would change many people's lives. Many of her students would take this up as a profession and earn a living through these skills.

She accepted immediately. She asked me to let her know when and where, and she would go. This was how it started; she became an ambassador for Star Insight.

Over a thousand people now work with her. I asked her to tell me something about some of these people.

“Many different types of people work for me,” she said. “Many tribal girls work as beauticians. They are really interested in the field, and make up a good part of the industry. Other areas such as management are predominately staffed by locals.”

“We also have a group of acid survivors working for us,” she added. “We have several groups working for us that come from the BNWLA. The BNWLA is a lawyer's organization that works with social victims or the victims of crime or abuse who cannot go back to their own homes because of personal and social dangers. These victims are forced to take refuge with the BNWLA because they have nowhere else to go. We are going to open a branch in Mirpur, where we are training three hundred girls from BNWLA.”

While talking to Kaniz, I was introduced to an acid survivor named Shabana. I asked Shabana how she ended up here. She replied, “I am from Kurigram, I was married off when I was twelve years old by my family, when I didn't even understand what marriage was. The agreement was that even though I was married off at twelve, I would continue to live with my family till I was older. Only later would I move in with my husband and start living with his family. But they took me away earlier than was agreed. This started a conflict between the two families. Over time the conflict intensified, eventually reaching a point where my husband and his uncles threw acid at me. I was lucky because I managed to avert my face, so it did not burn. But the acid fell on most of my body, severely burning it. After this I was hospitalized and my husband ended up in jail.”

“The time after my attack was terrible,” she added. “I could not make myself do anything. It was too hard. I was depressed and wanted to kill myself. I thought like this for a very long time, I just couldn't bare it. I was eventually taken in by the Acid Survivors Foundation, who put me in contact with Mrs. Kaniz Almas Khan. Through her I got a new life and started dreaming again. I no longer want to die. Now I want to live. Apa gave me this strength. It is because of her that I can move forward again.” She added, “Kaniz Apa is more than just my boss; she is like my mother. She takes care of me, us. Even though she is so busy, she takes the time to look after us, to find out about us. She genuinely cares. She has also given me freedom. And because I have gone through so much and have found out so much from my experiences, I now work as a counselor. I help others who have suffered like me and don't know what to do, because I have been through something like what they have gone through. I know what to do, where to go, who to see. When these victims come to us, Kaniz Apa gives me time off from my job to help them, advise them, and to be a big sister to them.” At this point, she broke down. She started crying out of relief and gratitude.

“Without her I would have killed myself long ago.”

I talked with many boys and girls like Shabana who work there. All of them told me similar stories. About how Kaniz Almas Khan helped them and saved their life. Without her most of them would now be lost and even dead.

Yet Kaniz Almas Khan's journey did not start out on this path. She started off in the drawing room of her house, where she ran a makeshift beauty parlor for people she knew. But her company grew. And now it is a huge firm, one of the biggest in the beauty industry of Bangladesh.

She has over a thousand employees and her salon chain has three branches throughout the city. A branch in Mirpur is about to open soon. Her firm is continuously expanding. There are men's divisions, a spa, gyms, training institutes and plans to reach out into rural areas and markets.

She had started out to do business. But through the opportunities she gave to young girls and boys, and through jobs provided to the victims of society, she has given them self-empowerment. Through her work and policies, many young men and women have become empowered to act and to take control of their own lives.

It can further be said that within the conservative Bangladeshi society, girls are often restricted from working at a lot of places. They can work as beauticians, hairdressers and make-up artists. It is a job and it gives them a sense of empowerment, esteem and self worth.

To get a better understanding of the business I asked her what she thought about the beauty industry in Bangladesh. She was optimistic- she explained that there is possibility for massive growth. She said that there still remains a certain level of condescension towards beauticians in society, that it was not really a serious career. But, she added, this was far from true. With a population of 14 crore, Bangladesh is potentially a huge market. If more educated, skillful people enter the profession and the business, they will find that there is a lot to be done.

“I just want to keep working. I want to give love and get love. And I will be happy with that,” she said.

“I would like to tell Kaniz Almas Khan that what I got from her was that people genuinely loved her. She inspired them and that she has a gift for giving people hope. Businesses like this can truly inspire people and change lives.”

Photo credit : Persona


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