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Fruits of Labour: SWAPNO through my eyes

Posted on 08 Dec, 2020

The warm and welcoming 42-year-old Khaleda told me her story — her parents also couldn’t escape poverty, and they struggled to provide for a family of eight. Growing up in such hardship meant she had to start working at a young age and never got the chance to go to school.

Like countless other girls of the region, Khaleda was married off at a very young age — she was only 12. Soon afterwards, she became the mother of two daughters and a son. She was passing her days with the family as best as they could, but then her husband died due to illness and lack of proper treatment.

Khaleda recalled, “I was in complete distress after my husband died. I had no savings to run my family. And my husband had debts which I had no means to pay back.”

Unlike many others who would rely on fate, Khaleda chose not to give up. Despite the many problems she had to face, she was determined to rebuild her life with perseverance and hard work. She left for Dhaka and got a job at a garments factory, but soon she had to marry her daughters off when they were just 11 and 12. To add to her woes, Khaleda was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had to spend all her income and savings behind the treatment. “I lost my job and returned home. But my streak of unfortunate events didn’t end there,” Khaleda continued, “One of my daughters’ husband fell sick, lost his job, and the two of them nowhere else to go. So they began living with me.”

With more people in the household, it got more and more difficult for Khaleda to earn enough money for food and everyday necessities. She found work as household help, but the income was too low for the family.

Khaleda was scouring for better opportunities when she chanced upon SWAPNO’s recruitment notices. She learned about the immense support that SWAPNO provides to women who are battling poverty and other hardships in her area. She promptly applied and was selected for a 15-month work cycle.

Now, Khaleda joins fellow women in road maintenance work from 8am to 2pm every day. The job pays Tk 200 a day, of which Tk 50 goes into her savings fund. She will be able to make use of these savings after completing the SWAPNO graduation. In addition, Khaleda is also receiving training on health, nutrition, financial literacy, gender-based violence, disaster risk reduction and other relevant issues to better contribute to her community.

“The training has been quite useful, actually. I picked up vegetable gardening from there. Bought two goats and five chickens with my income from the project. I am also taking orders for nakshi katha and earning some money on the side from these ventures,” said a smiling Khaleda, finally done recounting the stories of her hardship in the past.

She sells chicken eggs in the market, and her goat-rearing has been quite successful — they’re worth around Tk 30,000 now. She earned around Tk 2,400 by embroidering on quilts and turning them into nakshi katha. “I’m planning to sell the goats in the near future and combine that earning with some savings. Then I’ll be able to buy a cow and diversify my income activities even further,” said Khaleda, already a smart businessperson.

“Just within ten months of working with SWAPNO, I’ve been able to achieve more of my dreams than I thought would be possible. I feel like a completely new person with a new vision now,” she said, “SWAPNO has not only helped me earn more but also gave me the confidence to build a better future for my children and myself.”

I left Jamalpur and carried with me Khaleda’s big smile. SWAPNO (Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities) is a social transfer-based graduation model project targeting ultra-poor rural women who are widows, divorced, abandoned or left with a disabled husband.  Major interventions of the project include fixed wage contract for under public works component; need-based life skills and livelihoods training and formal financial inclusion.

The six-year project began in 2014 across 1,030 unions in 22 districts. With financial support from the Government of Sweden and technical assistance from UNDP, this project has changed the lives of around 65,000 rural women through diversified income-generating activities and made a longlasting positive impact on the social and economic lives of rural communities. I thank all the partners to stand beside the left behinds.

By Van Nguyen, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh

This article is published in UNDP Bangladesh Website