Tahmina Begum looks up and ahead for her daughter
19-year-old Tahmina lives in Matikata village in Sylhet with her new-born daughter, husband, and father. Her home is surrounded by large tea garden estates, making the disparity between her own situation and that of her neighbours’ even more glaring. Tahmina’s mother had died when she was young, and her father is frequently unwell.
Tahmina runs a small grocery store in Matikata. Her customers are mainly workers from the tea estates, traveling drivers, and farmers. Her daughter, Tahia, claims much of her time and attention now, and she relies on her father to help run her store and household. Tahmina’s husband, Terab, is a tuktuk driver, and supports his wife as much as he can. The young couple remains optimistic about their life and work, despite having faced their share of tragedies.
When she was 15 years old, Tahmina joined Suchana’s adolescent club along with some of her friends. She, along with the other girls, would meet once every week, and discuss issues related to their healthcare, rights, and issues, and gender-based discrimination that they face regularly.
With her mother gone and her father falling ill, Tahmina was often asked to take charge of her family’s grocery store. Although she had no formal training to run a business, and only little formal education, she learnt how to manage the store from her father, and was considered to be quite business-savvy for one so young.
At the age of 16, Tahmina fell in love with Terab and they wed. She was then selected to participate in Suchana’s off-farm income generating activities (IGA) to expand what is now her grocery store. With Suchana’s input funds, Tahmina was able to expand stocks and invest in a refrigerator, as a result of which her sales and monthly profitmargins increased.
She was also trained on healthcare for new and expectant mothers, and newborn children. As part of nutrition counselling sessions, Tahmina learnt about Sylhet’s struggle with high infant mortality rates. She was made aware of the importance of regular check-ups for pregnant women, nutritious and diversified diets for both women and children, and vaccinations for children.
In the first year of their marriage, Tahmina and Terab had a child. Tragedy struck when their son contracted Hepatitis B and he died soon after. The grieving couple managed to rebuild their lives. Their daughter Tahia was born at the start of 2020. Per Suchana’s training, they made sure that Tahmina consumed a healthy and nutritious diet, and that both mother and child had regular checkups and vaccinations.
She is not able to access a diversified range of food items as frequently as she would like now. With Tahia and her shop claiming most of her time, she was unable to continue care for her homestead vegetable garden. She owns some chickens, which allows her access to eggs, but needs to visit the market or her brother’s fields for vegetables.
When Tahmina’s father managed their grocery store, they would sell small and relatively inexpensive items, such as packeted snacks, soaps, and bottled soft drinks. With Suchana’s financial support and business training, Tahmina was able to invest in a variety of products soon after. She asked her regular customers of the types of products they would like to purchase from her store, and stocked her shelves accordingly.
Suchana’s demand-driven and customer-focussed business training encouraged Tahmina to invest in appliances that would allow her to store products. This resulted in her purchase of a refrigerator, which allowed her to enter into sales of an entirely new range of products. With much of Suchana’s input and her own savings, Tahmina was able to pay off loans for her refrigerator fairly quickly.
The COVID-19 lockdowns have affected Tahmina’s incoming stock of products, resulting in somewhat reduced sales for 4 months. However, once restrictions were lifted and the supply chain had returned to its usual state, her sales had increased once again.
Suchana trains beneficiaries on the need to prepare for a rainy day, a phrase to be taken quite literally in an area as prone to flooding as Sylhet. Village Savings and Loans Associations go a long way to ensure members are prepared to deal with financial losses or large personal expenses. Tahmina’s group ran a successful VSLA for the duration of her time with Suchana, but following phase-out of the programme, the association decided to shut down. Tahmina found the experience to be a valuable one, however, and is interested to join other savings schemes.
Tahmina and Terab are both focussed on Tahia’s well-being and happiness for the future. Tahmina is keen to continue growing her business, both to ensure a stable future for her daughter, and also to ensure that she has enough saved up for her father’s healthcare. Terab wants to save enough money to buy his own tuktuk, and one day an entire fleet of tuktuks. He recognises how Suchana’s business-forward approach had transformed his wife’s business, and is interested to replicate those ideas in his own work.
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.