Momota Akhter struggles to keep her family afloat

Introduction

   

17-year-old Momota Akhter is based in the hillside village of Soroibari. The village is difficult to reach and the area surrounding her home is almost barren, making vegetable cultivation nearly impossible. Their village is located on a rocky hillside in the Kamalganj upazila, and access to resources is difficult to navigate. They have to travel long distances downhill for water, and to access the small plot of land where they grow their vegetables.

Momota lives with her parents and younger brother and sister, and was able to study up to Class 8 in a madrasa nearby. Her mother is elderly, and is busy managing their home, and caring for her father. Her father suffers from severe asthma attacks and has been unable to earn a stable income for the family for a few years. He collects scrap wood and engages in light carpentry work. The income this work brings in is all that the family has had to survive on. The family lives almost handto- mouth, on unstable and irregular earnings.

For the past few months, it had rained every other day in Soroibari, making the walk downhill slippery and dangerous.

 

 

Joining Suchana

Lucky was pregnant with her fourth child around Momota joined Suchana’s adolescent club with some of her friends back in 2017. The group would meet every Thursday to discuss issues that affect their community, and ways in which they could improve the lives of everyone living in the community.

Momota and her friends talked about various health complications that affected residents of Soroibari, arising from a lack of adequate nutrition. A lack of vitamin and mineral intake resulted in serious health complications in their community, so the girls learnt about easily accessible or cultivable fruits and vegetables that would supplement the diets of their families.

They also discussed issues that particularly affected young girls, and ways in which they would be able to tackle them, both personally and as a collective. The girls discussed early marriage and the negative consequences of pregnancies in young girls, and the negative effects of heavy labour on their bodies.

Momota and her friends in the club would teach the rest of their community on improving their nutritional intake, as they learnt in the meetings. Residents of Soroibari were interested in learning more, and in adopting improved, healthier lifestyles.

Suchana gave members of the club vegetable seeds and seedlings so they can start cultivating different vegetables for their family. Vegetable cultivation was not easy in the region, but the group and other Suchana homesteads still managed to grow and consume more vegetables through this initiative.

 

Homestead Food Production

With her father’s illness limiting her family’s sources of income, it soon fell upon Momota to start earning a livelihood to support her family. She dropped out of her madrasa after having completed Class 8, as her father was no longer able to support her education.

Once Suchana had provided seed and seedling support to her adolescent club, the programme selected members of the community for different homestead production and income generating activities. The programme selected Momota as a beneficiary for their Homestead Food Production for poultry.

She received BDT 1,800 total over the next 2 years, through which she purchased 6 chickens in total. The primary objective of having these chickens was for her family to increase their protein intake through egg and meat consumption.

This worked for some time. Momota hatched some eggs, while her family consumed some. The chickens would lay around 10 eggs per round. The chicks, once older, would again be consumed by her family. Excess eggs and chickens would be sold off, supplementing her family’s income.

 

Sewing

While poultry rearing did not generate much income for her family, the programme opened Momota’s eyes to the potential of engaging in various entrepreneurial activities. She received training from her aunt in different sewing techniques, as she expressed an interest in starting a tailoring business.

Momota’s father took a loan to buy her a secondhand sewing machine. Momota negotiated a fixed interest rate of BDT 6,000 with the money lender. She agreed to pay them back, in a lump sum, as soon as she earns enough.

 

Life after Suchana

  • Misfortune hit, and 5 of Momota’s 6 chickens bought with the support of Suchana died in the first quarter of 2020. She had vaccinated them, and once they fell ill, given them medicines, but they did not survive
  • Momota agrees that the nutritional intake of her community has improved significantly since Suchana commenced interventions in the area. People are more aware of the effects of poor nutritional intake, and make an effort to eat better. She thinks members of her community are now healthier
  • Momota has still not given up on the idea of poultry rearing as a viable option to supplement the nutritional intake of her family, or to earn some income from the sales of eggs and chickens. She invested in two adolescent chickens which
    she will raise for eggs and meat
  •  Momota’s family has a cow and a new-born calf now. They will be able to keep and raise the calf, and supplement the family’s dairy intake if both remain healthy and well-cared for
  • Momota’s beneficiary group had set up a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) when Suchana was active in the area. Following the closure of Phase I, members of the group became inconsistent with their weekly contributions to the fund, and the VSLA closed down. Momota thinks, with proper control and management, the savings group would have still been able to function, and eventually benefit all members
  • Following the lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Soroibari who were employed in more urban regions returned to their village. They were unemployed for almost 6 months, adversely affecting the already poor region. It was only in September 2020 that these individuals started returning to work, and sending money back to their families

 

Plans for the future

Momota is eager to improve her sewing skills and have an additional through tailoring. She is honing her skills, and is interested to collect fabric and start producing outfits for her community. She hopes to earn a stable income to support her family through this craft.

About Suchana

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.

Contact us at:

suchana.bangladesh@savethechildren.org
House CWN (A) 35, Road 43, Gulshan 2, Dhaka 1212