Shilpi Begum is determined to empower her daughters
25-year-old Shilpi Begum is based in the lowlying village of Akhansi in Moulvibazar. She once worked as a youth field organiser for NGOs, raising awareness on HIV/ AIDS in her village, and trained young women on various life skills.
Following her marriage 12 years ago, and objections from her husband’s family, Shilpi had to stop working as a field organiser to focus instead on caring for her family.
Shilpi’s husband runs a tea stall where he sells tea, cigarettes, and various baked goods to the community. The couple has three children, two daughters and a son, and are expecting their fourth child later in 2020.
Shilpi grows vegetables near her house, primarily beans and leafy vegetables. Her children are 10, 6, and 4 years old.
Shilpi’s home is in a low-lying flood-prone region. Poverty levels are high, with annual floods destroying any fixed assets that they might have.
While many people in Sylhet receive remittance support, or support from their families living abroad, the people of Akhansi do not have the luxury to look to family members for support. Most of them live on daily wages, and have suffered from the loss of wages during the lockdown period in 2020.
Shilpi was approached by Suchana field staff in 2016/ 2017, who asked her whether she would be interested to join the programme. Shilpi agreed, interested to ensure improved nutrition for her family, and in the hopes of engaging in profitable activities.
The poorest individuals in the area, including Shilpi’s own sister in law, received funding for goats from the programme, and her family received funding for chickens. The chickens would primarily supplement eggs and meat intake of the family.
Shilpi was a Phase 1 participant of Suchana’s graduation programme. Her household was selected to benefit from Household Food Production interventions with poultry due to severe malnutrition persisting in her community.
Three and a half years later, as the Suchana graduation programme phased out in Akhansi village, very little seems to have improved in Shilpi’s life. The chickens she had purchased with the support of Suchana had all died, and even when she had invested in more chickens, they had mostly died. The unique low-lying nature of the village meant that her region was often damp, if not flooded, and in spite of having received vaccination services, the chickens kept getting sick and dying.
2020 has been particularly difficult for the family. The Sylhet region itself had suffered from 4 different occasions of flooding, hitting Shilpi’s village particularly hard.
The hazals she had learnt to make as part of her training were all destroyed, as were the shelters produced for her chicken. She feels uncertain about maintaining the few chickens that she does have left still.
Shilpi’s husband’s business had also suffered from heavy losses with the lockdowns mandated to control the COVID-19 pandemic. He suffered from a lack of customers from April to August, but is happy to report a slow and steady return to normal of sales.
The savings group initiated by Suchana was promising, Shilpi admits, but not feasible in an area as poor as theirs. Most members of the group were unable to contribute any funds, and it did not seem feasible to keep the group following the phasing out of the programme.
This savings group had potential, she admits to support them during disasters. In spite of the text messages they receive of potential flooding in the region, there seems to be no support in terms of infrastructure, consistent relief, or a permanent solution.
A primary positive impact of the programme, however, has been the intake of improved nutrition for Shilpi and her family. She tries to ensure that her children eat well, with regular intake of vegetables, eggs, and protein. She is aware of the positive effects of eating well and maintaining a hygienic environment and person, both for herself and her family now. She is also aware of the need for regular check-ups for her own self, so her new baby is safe and healthy.
Shilpi is eager to commence livestock farming for a profit with the cow that she and her husband had invested in, late September 2020. She knows how to fatten the cow for sales and hopes for it to become a steady source of income in the future. She had learnt to feed the cow roughage and grass, and to vaccinate and clean regularly. She is interested in rearing more livestock, if the opportunity presents itself. Her principal concern now, however, is to ensure the continued education and well-being of her children. She wants to ensure her daughters have the opportunity to work - an opportunity she herself had been deprived of since her marriage. Her son is interested in taking over his father’s shop following the completion of his education, and already provides support around the shop. Shilpi is open to the idea of returning to work for the community as an employee in NGOs, but is aware that might not be entirely possible in light of the arrival of a new member in her family.
Suchana: Ending the cycle of undernutrition in Bangladesh is a multisectoral nutrition programme which aims to reduce chronic undernutrition leading to stunting among children under two years of age in 235,500 poor and very poor households in the Sylhet and Moulvibazar districts of Bangladesh.
The programme adopts an integrated approach to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions and generates a sustainable and replicable model that can be scaled. Suchana is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the EU, and is implemented by a consortium of 8 different development organisations and research agencies: Center for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), Friends in Village Development Bangladesh (FIVDB), Helen Keller International, icddr,b, iDE, Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), Save the Children, and WorldFish.
The consortium is led by Save the Children.
The Household Food Production for poultry intervention under the Suchana programme was designed following extensive discussions with stakeholders and experts from both public and private sectors.
Each HFP poultry beneficiary received BDT 1,800 total from the programme, and were selected by a working committee comprising members of the pusto dol. Once beneficiaries receive the money, the working committee ensures that they buy their poultry from approved vendors.
Beneficiaries receive BDT 1,200 as a first instalment, and BDT 600 later during the first egghatching period.