"I’m 65, a woman… and I scrap metal in Bangladesh"
This is Amirjaan: a heavy lifter in the literal sense, proving how a business grant can turn someone’s life around.
Her beloved mock gold earrings twinkle next to her blood red sari. Surrounded by brightly coloured scarves that decorate her home, she begins to share a little of her life story.
And it isn’t what you’d expect.
Amirjaan is a 65-year-old Bangladeshi scrap metal dealer who would think nothing of lifting an appliance weighing 20kg.
An entrepreneur and an environmentalist
She is one of the few women working in the trade and has built up a steady income. She buys items containing tin, iron and copper, extracts the metals and sells them on at a profit of around £1.50 per kilogram.
Something of an environmentalist, she’s proud of making a living by reusing materials. She looks out for discarded items to sell separately, like screwdrivers. “I’m collecting them to sell and earn a living, but on the other hand it’s the [local environment] getting cleaned,” she said.
Today, her cheerful home, where she lives alone, is a symbol of her success and stability. But at one time, Amirjaan had very little. She was forced to beg and borrow, scouring the streets for scrap metal.
She then received a cash grant from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, which she smartly invested in her business, before using the profits to build her home.
A home filled knee-deep with water
Unfortunately, her home isn’t yet safe. Amirjaan lives in Barishal, a city on the Kirtonkhola River. The river regularly floods, particularly in monsoon season.
Once, Amirjaan’s home filled with knee-deep water, which damaged her possessions and forced her to stay with other people. “I had to beg people to be able to eat,” recalled Amirjaan.
“I have suffered a lot.” But she remains unbowed in the face of adversity, using profits from her business to make the necessary repairs and to raise the level of her home to make it less likely to flood. It took her months to gather the materials, before hiring labourers to do the building work.
Amirjaan loves jewellery and dreams of buying real gold rings. For now, her prized possession is her earrings, which she treated herself to after getting herself back on her feet.
Looking to the future
But her real goal is to save enough money to install her own electricity meter. Until recently, Amirjaan had been using electricity from her neighbour’s supply, until the monthly payments became too much. “I am struggling but when I can save the money, I will get the meter for 15,000 taka (£145),” she said.
Amirjaan hopes eventually to be able to build a brick house with a permanent electricity supply, so that she can live comfortably in the hot summers. “People ask, ‘How much longer are you going to live? What is the point of building a plot?’ [But] people’s hope is life, isn’t it? I will have a peaceful life by working hard.”
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