Shamima Begum inspires young women in Bekamura to take charge of their own lives
Shamima Begum is a 17-year-old who lives in the Purbo Doloir Mati village in Sylhet. She is the oldest of four children, in a family of six, and has three younger brothers. Shamima likes to help her younger siblings with school work. She was educated till Class 5 herself, and dropped out when met with severe financial constraints.
Shamima supports her family through homestead food production and chicken rearing with Suchana’s help. She also sells excess produce to her neighbours, foregoing the need to go to the market. Both her parents support her work in homestead food production, and her younger siblings also help out whenever possible. Shamima believes that their lives have improved drastically from when she left school, thanks to her participation in Suchana. While her parents earned livelihoods selling produce that they grew on their homestead before the programme, both production and sales were unreliable and inconstant
In 2017, Shamima was introduced to Suchana by field officers. She had also heard about the programme from her friends. When Shamima first attended Suchana’s training sessions, she was not sure of its benefits. This scepticism changed over time. She believed that the training would eventually benefit her family, and stuck to the programme even though some of the other participants left.
Suchana selected Shamima for homestead food production (HFP) poultry intervention. She was interested to participate, seeing value in improved livelihoods through egg sales when there was excess production. Suchana selected her for the intervention also because of her limited mobility and the need for relatively low-intense labour required for poultry rearing.
As a teenager, Shamima was eligible to join Suchana’s adolescent group. The group trained members on:
Suchana gave Shamima BDT 1,200 to buy chickens. Shamima bought three at first and later bought two more. Before Suchana, Shamima did not know how to rear chickens. By the end of 2018, Suchana gave Shamima a further BDT 600. From the HFP training for poultry, Shamima Shamima Begum, Moulvibazar Age: 17 years old Zila: Moulvibazaar Upazilla: Moulvibazar Union: Akailkura Village: Bekamura Beneficiary household ID: 915970220008 Graduation stage: Green learned and mastered the practice of rearing chicken, and selling and investing in them. Shamima also sells eggs.
Shamima also received training on homestead vegetable gardening. Her homestead gardening efforts started with three different kinds of seeds. Shamima now knows how to cultivate soil, plant seeds, and grow produce per Suchana’s training, and to sell excess produce to earn an income.
Shamima was also trained on poultry healthcare, and to deal with pests in her vegetable garden. Due to the success of the HFP training programme, Shamima can also earn an income with her family from homestead food production.
Suchana’s adolescent groups are designed to raise awareness about improved diets, nutrition and early marriage among female teenagers. Participation in such a group offers young girls a plethora of benefits and vast knowledge on different topics. Shamima is a member of an adolescent group, where she took part in 12 sessions (so far), out of which six were on nutrition. The most important and impactful lessons had been the ones on:
Shamima’s personal favorite are lessons on self identity, which garnered a sense of independence in her.
Gender identity and equality lessons are also of great importance. Shamima knows now that daughters and sons deserve the same diet at home, the same opportunities and freedom. These lessons also gave her the voice to speak up at home to educate her parents about gender equality. At first, there has been a lot of hesitation and anxiety but with time and because of Suchana’s training, Shamima found ease in speaking her mind.
The group also offers lessons on early marriage. Shamima now knows that girls below 18 and boys below 21 years of age cannot legally get married.
She now knows the harm early marriage can cause to the female body. Shamima wants to take her time and wait long after she turns 18 before getting married. Not only lessons, but the group also offers scope of recreation which includes toys and books to read. Shamima learned about Begum Rokeya from the books she gained access to in the group.
Shamima’s adolescent group formed a Village Savings Loan Association (VSLA) in 2018. Suchana is establishing community-managed savings and loan group activities. It is a small-scale initiative intended to help poor and very poor households improve their financial assets management. Shamima was appointed as the box keeper of her VSLA group and held her post since its inception. Suchana trains its members on how to start and run VSLAs and then gives complete control of the reins to the members.
On a monthly basis, Shamima saves BDT 20 every alternate Wednesday along with the other VSLA group members. The fund is primarily considered as a rainy day fund for the group members, who can take out loans at an interest rate of 10%. However, the rate is set on a case to case basis.
The group saves money in two categories, one is savings category and another is community fund. Meetings and lengthy discussions are held to decide how much money should be put in savings fund and community fund, how to spend the fund, which fund to use for loans, etc.
Shamima plans to expand the homestead food production operations to start business in the market. To achieve this, she wants to increase the number of chickens from four to 10-12. She wants to diversify and increase the quantity of produce she grows in her backyard. From nutrition, early marriage to gender equality lessons, Shamima believes that Suchana helped to make improvements of many folds in her life.
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.