Talha Tabassum Abonty Hijra
Transgender Rights Activist
Pathchola Foundation empowers transgender community through emotional support, empathy, and advocacy. They work at the grassroots level to promote community development.
Journey of Pathchola Foundation: Manisha Meem Nipun Hijra also known as Mohammed Jahidul Islam Al-Azad and Abdullah Al-Hasan established the Pathchola Foundation Bangladesh in 2019 to address the minority population’s lack of employability skills, education, and human rights issues.
This community-led youth organization is solely run by members of the gender and sexual minority who work at the grassroots level to promote community development. Manisha meem nipun is Pathchola’s founding member and Executive Director. They have a core team of ten people and 70 volunteers.
Although their initial goal was to provide emotional support, empathy, and advocacy, they gradually realized that financial stability was the only way to truly sustain their empowerment. As a result, employability was added to their core value. At the time, Manisha rescued ten transgender sex workers who wished to live a better life.
When Manisha was awarded a Millennium Fellowship through United Nations Academic Impact, the organization began to formalize its structure. During the early days of Covid-19, however, it was Manisha meem nipun who took the initiative to work for the particularly vulnerable community.
“People in my community were particularly vulnerable during Covid-19. When ordinary people were in need of aid or food, it was impossible for my people to receive assistance,”she said.
Manisha began with a Facebook post requesting assistance, which quickly went viral, garnering thousands of shares and comments. For nine months, they provided food and cash aid to 1,112 people in Chattogram, Khulna, Mymensingh, Rangpur, and Dhaka with the assistance of 25 donor organizations.
Manisha was awarded the Sheikh Hasina National Youth Volunteering Award 2020 in the ‘Service Excellence’ category the following year for her bravery in the face of the pandemic.
Pathchola Foundation was named one of the top 31 organizations in the ‘Social Inclusion’ category of the Joy Bangla Youth Award (JBYA) 2021 for outstanding services and dedicated efforts toward ensuring the equality and rights of Bangladesh’s minority population in 2021. Manisha was also recently honored with the Diana Award 2022 for her unwavering commitment to gender equality and social inclusion. The Diana Award is the most prestigious honor that a young person between the ages of 9 and 25 can receive for their humanitarian or social action work.
Struggle to be accepted and empowered
Although the term ‘hijra’ has been added as a means of identification in the sixth national census, there is still a lot of room for inclusion. There are still many areas in which these terms are not used. According to Manisha,
“We still have to put ourselves in either a male or female box in a form. When I had to go through this myself, I realized how insignificant I am in society.”
When Manisha decided to return to school, she wanted to apply to Bangladesh Open University, but this was one of the challenges she encountered. Manisha, along with ten other members of her community, were eventually admitted to Bangladesh Open University.
“So, from now on, anyone who is going to get admission in Open University from a minority can be themselves,”she added.
Continuing with her foundation:
Pathchola Bangladesh also runs a platform for the entrepreneurial development of the transgender community called ‘Boichitro.’ The idea is to provide entrepreneurship opportunities to the underserved community. So far, Boichitro has trained 110 people in technical skills such as block boutique, beauty, and sewing based on their own passions and interests.
“Even though we are assisting in providing them with jobs, they are not sustainable due to people’s insensitivity to the community. Because, despite their abilities, they struggle to find a way to express themselves.”Manisha elaborated.
Pathchola purchased 15 sewing machines with donations from other organizations and individual funding and distributed them to the best performers so that they would not be dependent on others. They also gave seed money to ten trainees so they could work for online parlors.
Pathchola has also provided soft skill training in areas such as emotional well-being, communication, civic education, leadership, and so on. Through this program, they have trained a total of 506 people. Boichitro has entered into a partnership with Anandamela, a UNDP-run service that teaches women how to be entrepreneurs. The UNDP also provided training to those working under Boichitro.
“The ‘Transtrepenuers’ at Boichitro were trained by UNDP entrepreneurship development on how to run and excel in an online business,” Abdullah explained. UNDP also provided them with cash assistance and cell phones. In addition, the organization registered ten transgender people with Foodpanda in collaboration with the company. They worked extremely hard to become the top Foodpanda employees in Chattogram. Pathchola’s gratitude to their partners was expressed by Abdullah, who added,
“We work in a very transparent manner; we try to help those who are most in need, and our partners have great faith in us. One of our partners, BYLC, is one of our most ardent supporters, having helped provide free training to the marginalized community.”