A journey to self-sufficency. How one woman won against all odds.
Celebrating the empowerment of women in rural Bangladesh.
by A.S.M Abdur Rab
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Jahera Begum is the second of nine children. She was born to landless peasants on a remote island situated ten kilometers from the nearest town. Her father worked the lands of the local elites to make ends meet. She recalls that her father would sometimes return home after dark clutching a 1.5 kg sack of rice or flour…wages after a hard day’s work. Often the children would already have been sent to sleep on an empty stomach (possibly several nights in a row). But on these welcome evenings, her mother would quickly cook up a meal, wake up the two youngest, feed them and send them back to sleep.
But farm work was irregular and seasonal. When there was no agricultural work, the family was forced to take out loans with the promise of paying them back against future labour. Jahera’s mother would also work in peoples’ houses and sent her daughter to do the same.
“I could not study much” says Jahera. “I made it to class four before my mother died suddenly.”
With the death of her mother, the household chores fell to Jahera and she left school. By age 10 she was married off to a landless labourer from a neighboring island. Her husband suffered frequently from illness and was unable to work for extended periods of time. “We lived on one meal a day or less” she recalls.
At this point, Jahera had three children of her own to look after, but no means of supporting them. Bangladesh had been hit by a bad flood and whilst waiting in line to receive aid, Jahera overheard people talking about their conditions. “Hearing about their situation gave me great pain and I promised myself that I would be self-sufficient one day.”
She started attending local aid meetings organised by NGOs who offered small loans to the poor, but was discouraged at the thought of having to pay back compulsory weekly installments given she had no resources. She later heard of Friendship’s financial support service, founded on the principle of offering training before supplying financial support.
To begin with, Jahera received training on vegetable farming and in October 2011 she received a small loan to start a vegetable patch. Not only was she able to feed her family the vegetables, but she also made a small profit by selling them at the local market.
Next, she received training on animal husbandry and received a loan to buy a cow. Although the cow fell sick, her training enabled her to cure it, fatten it up and sell it on for a healthy profit. She recalls crying tears of joy that day, having never earned so much before.
She went on to receive further training (rice cultivation…) and additional financial support. Jahera has since installed a latrine in her house, and a well outside providing clean, running water. She has a herd of 25 livestock (including a large milk cow) and is able to lease a plot of land thanks to her earnings. She also puts a small amount aside every week as savings.
“Confidence and determination can make a woman self-sufficient” says entrepreneur Jahera Begum.
Jahera’s drive and commitment combined with Friendship’s training and support enabled her to become self-sufficient. She has earned the respect of her neighbour’s (often being asked to lead matters in the village) and has inspired other women to become more independent. Unlike her, Jahera’s daughter is able to attend school, encouraged by her mother with the hope that one day she will become an accomplished woman.
Help empower more women like Jahera Begum in poor, remote areas in Bangladesh.