Her Majesty Queen Sofia is a great friend of Grameen Bank. Her most recent visit took place in February when she was in Dhaka to attend the Microcredit Summit. The Queen arrived in Bangladesh two days before the Summit so she could visit the villages of Bangladesh to meet the women who had used microcredit from Grameen Bank to change their lives.
This time she went to Tepuskorini village, Jaforgonj, Comilla. Accompanied by Professor Muhammad, and her entourage of officials, she spent the whole day of February 15 talking to and visiting the homes and neighborhoods of a village where Grameen Bank had given loans to poor women.
She was dressed in Grameen check skirt and blouse and Grameen jewellery, and had a colourful gamcha draped on her shoulder. There was a festive atmosphere in the village as uniformed school children in their dozens turned out to receive her. The Queen became busy straight away meeting members who had taken loans from Grameen Bank to engage in small income generating activities. Each woman talked excitedly about her loans and activities which included pitha-making, doll making, net-making, puffed rice making and vegetable raising. The Queen and her entourage were impressed by the quality and range of beautiful handmade products made by the members. There was a great deal of excitement in the village as the Queen sampled puffed rice and molasses given by the villagers. They presented her with cauliflower and cabbage grown by members to take home with her.
Queen Sofia with the struggling members(beggars) of Grameen Bank
The Queen spent a long time talking to Mamata, a Grameen Bank member who had taken her first loan 12 years ago in the face of stiff opposition from community members. She had persevered and had taken a first loan of Taka 2000 for paddy trading. She had then taken a further loan of Tk 10,000 to buy a cow. She invested her proceeds in a poultry farm with over 2000 chickens. She had gone on to take a Grameen housing loan of TK 25,000 to build a sturdy house and had invested in a Tk 2000 sanitary latrine. Her income had enabled her to educate her children. One of her sons has passed his MA in Political Science, and she reported, happily, that he had recently married. Mamata had won the King Baudouin prize for her achievements.
H M Queen Sofia discussed with the Grameen members about women's oppression, acid attacks and dowry. A group of members said they no longer accepted or gave dowry and introduced her to a couple that had recently married without dowry.
H M Queen Sofia also met with a group of thirty Grameen village phone operators. Many of them wearing burqas talked about their phone business with the Queen. They reported that business was good with lots of calls being made to and from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Kuwait, and Singapore. Each was making about Tk 20,000-Tk 30,000 per month (approx. US$ 300 to US$ 500).
The entourage then met with members of the Grameen Bank's new struggling members program. GB is providing interest free loans to beggars to purchase goods that they can sell. These include snacks, chocolates, oil, guavas, bananas, nuts and cosmetics. The members informed the Queen that the people of the community who had always looked down on them as beggars, were now treating them much better and that this made a big difference to their lives.
She also met with a group of students who were the sons and daughters of Grameen Bank members. These students had been able to go to school because of their mothers’ efforts and were now taking loans from GB to go to medical schools, engineering schools and other professional schools. She listened to each one, and their inspiring stories prompted her to announce that the Spanish government would provide 60 scholarships each year to the children of Grameen members to study in schools and colleges in Bangladesh, and a scholarship for one student to study in Spain each year. Everyone was thrilled.
After a full day of activity and exchange, the Queen returned to Dhaka, leaving behind unforgettable memories for the inhabitants of Tepuskorini village.
Compiled by Lamiya Morshed