“Shoyong”- Creating Self Reliant Communities in Chattogram Hill Tracts

Combining her passion for textiles and travelling, Shams Binte Arefin started Shoyong in 2016. Shoyong meaning “self dependent” in Bangla, is a platform for ethnic groups in Chattogram Hill Tracts to sell their textile products.With this endeavour, Shams aims to make these ethnic groups self sufficient.

YY: What inspired you to start Shoyong?

Shams Binte Arefin (SB): Three years ago, I travelled to the Chattogram Hill Tracts along with my friends. We bought a lot of their artistic products out of enthusiasm. These products were truly amazing and exceptional in quality.

I loved talking to them but I also saw that the people in the Chattogram Hill Tracts lived on subsistence. They did not have any minimum income and thus can’t ensure their basic needs. I did not like it. I thought, if these people are given training on making and selling their products, they don’t need to live on subsistence anymore. With that thought, Shoyong- a platform for the ethnic people to be self-dependent, came into being.

YY: What challenges have you faced initially? How have you overcome them?

SB: Starting up was not easy for us. One of the first challenges that we faced was the cultural barrier. The people at the Hill Tracts look at us as tourists only. The communities we work with now were not ready to accept any new ideas from us. They also didn’t find the motivation to improve their lifestyle. So, it took us one and a half year just to develop a relationship and be friends with them.

Another challenge that still persists is the distance. It takes almost 2 days for us to reach these communities. We need to take a bus, then go on a boat, after that need to trek to finally reach the communities. It is thus difficult for us to bring the required raw materials to these places as well. To combat this challenge, we are working to create fibres from pineapple leaves- a crop that grows abundantly there.

YY: What are your plans for the future?

SB: As I mentioned before, we are working to create cloth fibres out of pineapple leaves. Our plan is to make all the clothes made of pineapple leaf fibres. The fibres are soft and lustrous. We can make items like wedding gowns and many soft fabrics from them. These clothes will have a high demand abroad as it will be considered an eco-friendly product. And due to this, the income of our artisans will also increase.

YY: How did you get involved with YY Goshti Incubator? How have you benefited from this involvement?
SB: My educational background is in engineering. So, I had no knowledge of the business. A friend of mine advised me to apply for YY Goshti Incubator to get the business know-how.

It has been almost a year since Shoyong started its journey with YY Goshti. I’ll say that my idea of Shoyong was just a dream. With the help of mentors at YY Goshti my dream came true. I got to know about the different aspects of business, criteria of social business and much more here.

I also got to see things from different perspectives. I still remember that in one of our sessions at YY Goshti we all talked about failure, negativity and challenges that we might be facing after the bootcamp while building our businesses. Before that, I could not think about anything negative about Shoyong. This session helped me to think beyond and helped me push boundaries and embrace negativity while I was running after my dream.

YY: From your work in Shoyong, what do you think about the current condition of ethnic groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts? What steps should be taken to resolve the problem?

SB: Since tourism has been developed in this region in the past three years, the condition of ethnic groups in Chattogram Hill Tracts has improved. Previously, they would live in subsistence. Now they grow crops commercially, their children go to school, they go to community centres and much more.

However, most of the development here is in surface level. The development agencies give these people some money and then term it as development. But the better method of development is to create opportunities for these people to earn money by themselves. This method of development has been absent there.

I also think that tourists should be aware of their activities there. Most of the tourists litter here and there and don’t respect the communal harmony of ethnic people. This makes it difficult for the inhabitants  to move and work outside comfortably.

YY: Would you like to give any advice to startups?

SB: Believe in your idea. You must believe that you can do it, either alone or in a group. As long as you believe, you can succeed. It’s not just for startups, be it for any type of work, believing in yourself is the key to success.

So what do you think about Shams Binte Arefin’s story? Like, share and comment below.