Sonia Khatun lives with her parents and daughter in a small village outside of Sirajgonj in Bangladesh. Those in the neighbourhood have got used to seeing many women come and go from her small household, whether they come to be fitted for a dress, to buy cloth or to train with Sonia. She’s become a respected member of the community empowering other females like her to learn a skill and support themselves, but it hasn’t always been this way. Sonia struggled to get where she is now…

At just eight years old, Sonia, and the rest of her family, were diagnosed with leprosy. All in the early stages of the disease, they were able to complete treatment without there being any lasting physical effects.

Sonia even went onto marry, something the family was relieved about knowing the effect the stigma of leprosy can have on potential marital relations. While originally this was a celebration, over the next three years Sonia was to be abused by her in-laws, abandoned by her husband and left to raise their daughter with little money.

Eventually, Sonia returned to her parent’s home but brought with her severe depression. This is when she decided to join a Lepra self-help group and talk to others who had been affected by leprosy and felt it had impacted their life.

Through this group Sonia received group management training, eventually becoming the group’s cashier, and lessons on tailoring. Once fully trained she borrowed a loan from the self-help group’s fund and bought a sewing machine. This marked the start of ‘Sonia’s Tailoring and Clothing Store’ run from inside her home.

Over time word got round the community of Sonia’s skills and she became respected as she worked to sustain herself and her daughter. However, for Sonia this wasn’t enough.

After the experience she had had of being abandoned and abused with very few options, she wanted to help other women who found themselves trapped and vulnerable. That’s when she began taking in women who struggled to find work and training them in tailoring too.

While her business is still in the early stages, Sonia hopes that she’ll eventually be able to move her shop to the town of Sirajgonj itself and establish a fashion house that could employ some of her trainees.

To teach a vocational skill to those in one of our self-help groups only costs £25. Through that small amount, as in Sonia’s case, multiple lives can be changed as those previously affected by the disease go on to create businesses and help others. You can be a part of changing those lives by donating £25.

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