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Bangladesh: Anything Is Possible – Taking Food Assistance To The Next Level

What does it take for a young woman, mother of two, to rise out of extreme poverty and turn life around for herself and her family? Read how WFP project participant Rashida not only ensured her family’s food security and nutrition, but also became a successful entrepreneur and leader in her local government council, and even travelled abroad to share her story. 

DHAKA - Twenty-seven year old Rashida Parveen from Sirajganj, a rural area in northern Bangladesh, has just come back from the trip of a lifetime: “A year ago I did not even know about the outskirts of my own village, I’d never dreamt of coming to Dhaka. Now I’ve just come back from Korea!“, she tells us excitedly. “It was my very first plane ride – I loved it!”

New Horizons

South Korea plans to launch a project in rural Bangladesh this year using its 1970s model for modernising rural economy. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will join the project, which is being taken up in Bangladesh and Tanzania after successful implementation in Rwanda and Nepal.

Rashida accompanied officials from the Government of Bangladesh, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), WFP staff and the Korean NGO ‘Good Neighbours International’, to Seoul for training on the project, to talk about her experiences after she got involved with the WFP Food Security for the Ultra Poor (FSUP) project. The European Union-funded project helped 30,000 ultra-poor women improve their food security and nutritional well-being through the promotion of sustainable livelihoods.

A Hard Life

“When FSUP came to our village, my husband was the sole breadwinner in our family. He was a day labourer earning 150 taka (less than US$2) a day. We were extremely poor”, she remembers. “Our neighbours looked down on me and my family. If I asked to buy something from the market on credit, I often would be scorned and refused. We went through nights with the pain of hunger gnawing at our bellies and many nights I endured my baby’s cries as he struggled to go to sleep. I felt helpless and vulnerable.”

The FSUP project brought ultra-poor women together to form support groups. Together with other women from her village Rashida participated in trainings on entrepreneurship that helped them identify and develop business plans for activities like livestock raising, bull fattening or weaving that matched their skills and local demand. They then received an initial cash grant to invest, and a monthly allowance to help support their families as they grew their businesses.

Bangadeshi women sitting in a circle

Bangladeshi women undergoing training via the FSUP programme.

Photo: WFP/Ranak Martin

New Beginnings
“Equipped with these trainings I set out to do some farming and later moved onto fish farming with my husband. Now, we have leased three lakes where we farm our fish.” Working together, Rashida and her husband now earn 12,000 to 13,000 taka (ca. US$150-165) a month. 

The success of her business and the growing support she felt through regular meetings with her women’s group gave Rashida the confidence to reach out to her neighbours – especially those who she feels are treated like outcasts, the way she used to be. She talks to them about what she learned in her trainings and guides them in their search for improvement.

Gaining Income, Respect, And So Much More
“People in my village started to look up to me, trying to follow my example; now they come to me for advice on other issues as well, like advice on when their daughters are ready to be married. In the FSUP trainings, I learned about disaster preparedness, good nutrition, and the importance of hygiene and sanitation. Sometimes, I buy medicine for those who cannot afford it”, Rashida says.

In June 2011, her fellow villagers encouraged Rashdida to stand in elections for the local government, or Union Parishad. She won, and now represents her community in this forum. In her new political role, Rashida’s responsibilities include disaster preparedness, healthcare and hygiene, and improving  women’s empowerment. 

“I want to achieve a lot in life, I want to raise my children well and give them more opportunities, and I want to help others stand on their own two feet. With support from WFP, I could improve my life – now I must help others achieve the same. No matter how bad a situation seems, there is always a way out. Anything is possible!”