Stories of resilience – empowered women transforming their lives

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the accomplishments of marginalised women in Friendship’s working areas in remote, climate-affected river islands

From left: Aduri Begum, Mukta Sultana, Kolpona Akter and Sumaiya Afrin. ©Friendship
by Tahmeed Chaudhury
March 8, 2024

In Friendship’s working areas, women are at the centre of development in the remote, hard-to-reach regions. Women in marginalised communities, in the northern sedimentary riverine islands (chars) and the southern coastal belt, have shown incredible resilience, tenacity, hard work, dedication, resourcefulness and compassion to turn their lives around. Some have overcome extreme hardship to become successful entrepreneurs and farmers while others have become a beacon of hope for their communities, as paramedics, paralegals, community teachers, etc.

For International Women’s Day, this feature shall present a story for each of the Special Purpose Organisation’s commitments: Saving lives, Poverty Alleviation, Climate Adaptation and Empowerment. These exceptional women have been nominated by their peers, seniors, community members and other women, are but a sample of the kind of work that women within, and around Friendship have been doing for over two decades.

Aduri Begum
Saving Lives

Almina, a resident of Pachgachi village of Nayanipara char of Kurigram District, got married when she was just shy of her 17th birthday and conceived right after. Due to malnutrition, her baby was stillborn. She became pregnant again after a year and called on Friendship Community Medic-aide (FCM) Aduri Begum. Having assessed her history, Aduri referred her to the Friendship Satellite Clinic in Kurigram sadar where Almina was diagnosed as a high risk mother due to her malnutrition.

At the height of her pregnancy, Almina was one day suffering from severe labour pain. In duress, she called Aduri Begum and expressed her state of pain and panic. Aduri, having remained in touch with Almina throughout her pregnancy and aware of the risks to her and her child, rushed to her aid. She took Almina to the nearest delivery centre, Matri Mongol. However, the centre was at capacity with C-section deliveries and Almina was at the back end of the queue. Aduri knew there was little time to waste and immediately contacted the Friendship project officer of Kurigram sadar, Nilufar Akter. Nilufar sought immediate help from the sub-district Health and Family Planning Officer of Kurigram Sadar.

With help from concerned government officials, the doctors at Matri Mongol were contacted and Almina’s case was considered an emergency. She underwent a C-section surgery and gave birth to a baby boy. Both mother and child were out of danger and healthy. Furthermore, seeing the dedication of Friendship’s health workers, Matri Mongol decided to waive the BDT 5,000 medical fee. Aduri Begum’s efforts possibly saved a life on that day, and she has been revered for her swift and timely intervention.

Mukta Sultana
Poverty Alleviation

Mukta Sultana, 33, was in financial distress when her husband divorced her with her three children and left them to fend for themselves. Her meagre income from seasonal farming did not help make ends meet for her and her children. The looming uncertainties and the day-to-day challenges put a heap of burdens on Mukta’s shoulders.

As fate would have it, she learned about Friendship’s transition fund (ASD) project in her village and subsequently applied to become a member. She was selected and started to proactively participate in meetings and training sessions. She received training on farming, agriculture and livestock rearing, facilitated by the District Livestock Office and the District Agricultural Office in her village. At the conclusion of her training, she received vegetable seeds and a goat from the project as a head start for her venture. She began utilising the eight decimals of arable land she owned, and planted the vegetable seeds for cultivation. Simultaneously, she used her newfound skills in livestock rearing to raise the goat, breeding it with other goats in her neighbourhood for reproduction.

It didn’t take long for Mukta to see the fruits of her labour. Within two years, she now sees optimal output from her vegetable cultivation on a seasonal basis, and her goat gave birth to seven kids. She produces enough vegetables for consumption in her household as well as for selling. She sells goat milk as well, increasing her income from BDT 6,000-8,000 to BDT 15,000-16,000 per month.  

Now, Mukta has agency over her and her children’s lives, taking care of her household needs and sending her children to school, turning her fate from one of despair to one of prosperity.

Kolpona Akter
Climate Adaptation

Kolpona Akter bring rewarded for her timely and effective interventions during the flood by the District Administration of Kurigram in 2022. ©Friendship

Kolpona Akter, 20, is a resident of Char Barbaak in Chilmari Upazila of Kurigram district. Trained on the Building Resilience project of the CIDRR initiative, she has been a flood volunteer since 2019, often committing herself to saving the lives and possessions of people affected during floods in her community.

In 2022, when severe flooding hit her native village of Nayarhat, she jumped to action and led several relief activities. She worked with other villagers to construct of a bamboo bridge across floodwaters, and helped move assets worth approximately BDT 500,000, from a flood-threatened school to higher grounds. Her efforts saved lives of vulnerable people and protected assets, belonging to community people as well as the state.

Such was the impact of her heroic efforts, Kolpona was recruited as a project organiser to mobilise one thousand volunteers for a project that included repairing roads destroyed by floods, conducting flood preparedness training, and promoting safety measures to combat natural disasters. She was rewarded for her timely and effective interventions during the flood by the District Administration of Kurigram in 2022.

Sumaiya Afrin

Sumaiya Afrin is a Friendship Community Paralegal in Moddho Uriya Char in Gaibandha District. A member of the community herself, she has become a trusted person for many within her community, lending her ears to those in duress and offering her assistance to those who need help. As a community paralegal, she educates service seekers about legal matters and directs and connects them to professionals for advanced help. From resolving disputes and facilitating reunions to preventing child marriage and advocating for education of children, particularly girls, Sumaiya has been at the centre of various social issues in her village.

Sumaiya has till date resolved 12 divorce cases, 20 child guardianship cases, supported the education of ten children, and assisted five children in school admissions. She is also a voice against discrimination, frequently raising awareness against child marriage and violence against women. Rekha, a community member and a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws, sought Sumaiya’s assistance to escape from her perils. By referring her case for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), she helped Rekha obtain divorce and receive a BDT 70,000 in settlement from her then husband.

Sumaiya Afrin in her role as a Friendship Community Paralegal. ©Friendship

Sumaiya’s impact extends beyond legal services. She has overseen 50 registrations of births and deaths, distributed essential items to 70 members, and aided 20 people in accessing government allowances. She also coordinated efforts to vaccinate 300 domesticated animals. Sumaiya’s multifaceted role contributes significantly to poverty alleviation and community empowerment. Her dedication exemplifies the positive impact of an individual on an entire community.

Aduri, Mukta, Kolpona and Sumaiya are only four of a number of women who are consistently transcending boundaries to improve the lives, livelihoods and living circumstances of not just themselves, but also their wider communities. Their commitment, perseverance, empathy and hard work continues to set a glittering example in communities plagued by increasing climate adversities, poverty, and hardship.

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