A total of 650 widows belonging to financially vulnerable families at Aditmari upazila of Lalmonirhat escaped poverty and become self-reliance by adopting alternative livelihood activities.
The widows have become role models for other women in their communities.
The correspondent had the chance to get a glimpse of their journey so far after talking with a number of families and local administration during a recent visit to Lalmonirhat.
After the death of their husbands who were the only bread earners of the families, the 650 families living in five unions of Aditmari Upazila were in deep crisis, and the widows of the families did not know how they would overcome the financial hardship after the death of the key earners of their families.
Apparently confined to the four walls of village houses deep in the district for their entire life, the families had hardly any way to make a living and support their family members.
But they escaped poverty and now lead a life which has seen their income increased and a better future beckons.
Apart from achieving financial solvency, the 650 widows have gained their dignity in society and have the confidence to press for rights and demands for themselves and others before private or government authorities.
But the journeys of the widows were not easy. The scarcity of daily necessities became a reality for the families. There was even no guarantee of their three meals a day.
They were also unable to bear the expenses of education of their child after the death of their husbands. There was no end to their financial sufferings.
At that point, UK-based NGO ‘Islamic Relief Bangladesh’ (IRB) started working in the Aditmari upazila in 2015 to help those families.
IRB selected the 650 families including 65 from the Hindu community as orphan beneficiaries under the Alternative Orphan Family Sponsorship program through Sustainable livelihoods (ALO) project.
The project helped the target community form 44 self-help groups, 41 Alo child clubs, five union women forums and one upazila women forum in the upazila with widows and children of the 650 families.
The group and club members started to meet every week to discuss the ways to solve their problems.
The project provided leadership development, group mobility and financial management training, entrepreneurial development and business management training to the widows.
With the help of the government’s Department of Livestock Services, they also participated in several training programs including the one on cow rearing.
Islamic Relief Bangladesh is providing Tk 500 to each orphan child every month as education stipend while it gave Tk 18,000 to each family for business development purposes.
Through the training programmes, the widows of the families learned the techniques of business planning and subsequently become successful entrepreneurs.
They started different financial activities including running shop, sewing work, chickens and ducks farming, goats and cattle rearing.
Now, the families lead a comparatively happy life. They have managed to bring happiness to their orphan families and have dreams of seeing their children getting a proper education.
Almost all of them have made themselves morally strong and confident through graining the financial ability to run their families.
Aditmari Upazila Social Services Officer Md Abdul Jalil told daily sun that “Although we can provide training, we can not provide cash assistance to the widows. But Islamic Relief organised the women as well as gave Tk 18,000 assistance to each family for entrepreneurship development.”
During a visit to several unions of Aditmari, this correspondent talked with a number of beneficiaries who shared stories of their plight and subsequent successes.
Many of them said they had gained leadership qualities and now they can deal with their matters on their own. All the 650 women get widow allowances from the government.
Being empowered by the training, the women claimed to have pursued the local representatives easily to include them in the government facilities — Allowances for the Widow, Deserted and Destitute Women.
One of the widows Mukta Begum, who is a resident of Binnagari village of Bhaidai union of Aditmari, said she had hardly any way to make a living and support her two children after the death of her husband Badiur Rahman.
Mukta said her husband died, leaving their three-member family in unbearable trouble. It became almost impossible for her to manage family expenses and education cost of children. In 2015, IRB included them as an orphan beneficiary family.
As part of the project, she receives Tk 500 from IRB every month as education stipend to pay for her daughter. She received Tk 18,000 for business development purposes.
Taking the help, Mukta underwent training and started cattle rearing, cattle and goats fattening business, and sewing work. Now she is self-reliance.
The government has also recognized her achievement. Aditmari Upazila Administration provided her with an honorary crest on the Begum Rokeya Day in 2017.
Another widow Bharoti Rani, a resident of Rotherpara village under Palashi union said: “We were in deep crisis to run our five-member family after the death of my husband three years ago.”
“My son Pabitra Kumar and daughter Parthona are getting Tk 1,000 every month while IRB also gave us Tk 18,000 to run income-generating activities. Capitalising the money we got respite from the financial crisis,” she said
Like, Mukta and Bharoti Rani, stories of the 650 widows those who escaped poverty are almost the same.
Md Moniruzzaman, Manager of Health, Education & Child Welfare Program of IRB, said the tenure of the four-year project will end next year (2019).
“But we have trained the families and tagged them with different government and private projects so that they can continue their development activities,” he said.