Stories of Hope

Sheuli Begum

Sheuli Begum, a 35-year-old woman from Khulna, seems to have a long history of work experience and strong willpower embedded from the beginning of her journey as a Female Sales Agent. When her husband left her and married another woman, she was lost and did not know how to earn her living to support her family. Against such a backdrop, becoming a micro-entrepreneur was her conscious decision.

Since she possesses limited education, she realized there is no substitute for hard work and determination evident during the training sessions where she actively participated, which JITA Bangladesh organized. She credits the learnings from the training sessions instilled a strong belief in her capabilities.

Under the BNA project, she initially disseminates messages to enhance nutrition and WASH-based outcomes through demand creations sessions within her rural communities. In the last three months, she conducted 6 mobile-haat events, which allowed her to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to rural households, making a profit of BDT 500. In addition to these events, she engages in door-to-door activities selling health, hygiene, and nutrition-based products, earning margins of BDT 1,300 based on products sold worth BDT 9,000.

Sheuli dreams big and wants to become a successful businesswoman looking to the future. She quotes, “I grew my savings to invest in a small store so that I can attain the respect of the community as a positive role model and support my family financially. Having a store will allow me to possess various goods consisting of daily essentials, packaged products, and grocery items so that I can effectively serve my communities.

(Published: 16 January, 2022)

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Lipi Begum

Being born in a rural low-income household, Lipi Begum has witnessed her share of challenges and difficulties. When she was 16 years old, she had to get married and take on responsibilities when she was not ready due to her family pressure. Her husband always supported and encouraged her to make household-related decisions. However, there was always financial tension, and she felt the burden being placed on her husband seemed unfair.

One day, she learned about a training program labeled on female entrepreneurship organized by JITA Bangladesh under the USAID Feed the Future Bangladesh Nutrition Activity (BNA) project. Once she showed up in the training program, she decided to explore this sector understanding to gain basic business and communication skills that will allow her to contribute financially to her family, and hence, this is how her journey started as a Female Sales Agent (FSA).

Over the last three months, through conducting both mobile-haat events and door-to-door activities, she managed to earn aggregate supplemental incomes worth BDT 6,000. By putting in total investments close to BDT 15,000, she secured access to basic essential and WASH products through business linkages established by JITA Bangladesh, which enabled her to effectively serve the needs of female households within her catchment area.

Rowshanara Begum, a customer of Lipi Begum, says, “Whenever I need to purchase any essential products like salt, flour or cooking oil, I usually ask my husband to bring these items from the nearest bazar. Unfortunately, my husband tends to forget to bring back sufficient quantities required for the whole month. That is when I can rely on Lipi Apa to deliver these items at the earliest. Also, there are products like sanitary napkins, which I feel comfortable conveying such a requirement to Lipi Apa.”

Lipi Begum quotes, “I was astounded at how quickly I managed to gain the trust and confidence from my customers. Some say I have developed some leadership skills and can influence them positively, which probably was an undiscovered potential ability.” She now feels very motivated and wishes to enrich her earnings by proactively taking monthly orders from her female households. Already, she has received four such orders from customers and intends to deliver these orders effectively, ensuring a consistent stream of earnings that can sustain her livelihood in the long run.

(Published: 13 January, 2022)

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Omar Faruk, Hub Manager

Omar dedicatedly pursued a college degree in the hopes of landing a respectable job for a renowned company. Unfortunately white collar employment opportunities were nearly non-existent in Omar’s hometown of Kalihati in Tangail district. After spending several days skimming through newspaper ads and dropping CVs in nearby offices, Omar finally got recruited as a Sales Representative at a local consumer goods company. However after a certain period of time Omar became increasingly demotivated by the career growth limitations and decided to quit.

Without a clear plan for the future, Omar remained unemployed for nearly a year until a chance encounter with an ex-colleague who also worked as a Sales Representative for another company. Omar got to learn about JITA through him and was advised to take a shot at pursuing the path of an entrepreneur. Intrigued by the prospect, Omar managed to get in touch with one of JITA’s Territory Officers and get a detailed briefing on the requirements to join JITA’s network of Hub Managers.

After taking the necessary preparations, Omar registered as a JITA Hub Manager and started his business venture with an investment of BDT 100,000 in 2016. Initially Omar found the work to be highly daunting; purchasing products from JITA’s partners, carefully managing the stock at a designated location inside his house, and scheduling weekly deliveries to rural stores. But with training and mentoring from JITA field staff, Omar quickly gained confidence and increased his business revenue within the first year of operations.

Today Omar’s investment capacity stands at BDT 500,000 and is currently conducting sales between BDT 300,000 and BDT 400,000 every month through JITA’s platform. Beyond his wildest expectations, Omar has managed to even build a house with the income from his Hub business. Omar’s only regret is that he was unaware in his younger days that becoming an entrepreneur would be such a worthwhile pursuit and fulfilling experience. He takes great pride in working with JITA and is a strong advocate for entrepreneurship as an alternative career.

(Published: 1 September, 2020)

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Atema Begum

It was tough for Atema’s parents to run a family of 8 – an unfair burden that stemmed from poor family planning practices at the time. This misery was eventually inherited by Atema and her three sisters, who were all married off at the age of 15 in order to ease the family’s financial hardship. After only two years of getting married, Atema had already borne two children and would eventually end up with five. Atema’s husband Rahim Bakhsh struggled to keep the family afloat and his lack of a formal education narrowed his livelihood options to working as a daily wage laborer.

Due to traditional gender norms, Atema was not allowed to work outside her home and therefore could not help her husband to make ends meet. In a devastating turn of events, Rahim was diagnosed with breathing difficulties linked to asthma and passed away at the age of 50. Being the sole guardian for her family now, Atema worked as a housemaid and eventually got her three daughters and two sons married off. Not wanting to be a burden on her children, Atema chose to seek various ways of earning money that would allow her to secure some savings each month. Then in December of 2018 Atema was officially on boarded as an Aparajita and things were never the same again.

Intrigued by the prospect of becoming an entrepreneur, Atema took her savings from other sources and invested in her door-to-door sales business with the energy of someone half her age. Step by step, Atema built a strong a foundation for herself while also attaining the respect of her community as a positive role model and a business woman. Breaking her streak of misery, today Atema saves a small portion of her income through JITA and spends the rest on herself as well as to support the upbringing of her grandchildren. Atema harbors nothing but love for her children and grandchildren, praying that they are never forced to lead a life of misery that she and her siblings experienced. When asked about what makes working as an entrepreneur special, Atema emphasized on the position of respect and dignity that she is able to enjoy as a result of accepting the opportunity created by JITA.

(Published: 8 June, 2020)

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Aklima Aktar

As far back as she can recall, Aklima has been a competitive achiever; she was appointed as class monitor for two years straight while in school and always placed among the top scorers in exams. However life outside school was a constant challenge that was difficult to overcome most of the times. Belonging to a lower-income household in the rural parts of Dinajpur posed more obstacles than opportunities for Aklima when it came to chasing her dreams.

Despite the demotivating circumstances, Aklima’s family supported her decision to continue her education beyond primary school. Despite getting married and having to moving to her new home in Nilphamari at 19, Aklima’s academic aspirations continued to thrive with the support from her husband, who himself was completing his higher studies in Paramedical Science. Through determination and grit, Aklima managed to successfully earn her Master’s degree from Nilphamari Government Women’s College.

But she and her husband were faced with a new challenge – trying to find decent employment. After a few years of trying and failing to secure a formal job with a respectable income, Aklima and her husband were frustrated at the sheer lack of opportunities coming from where they did. In order to make ends meet for the family, Aklima’s husband transitioned from temporary work at the nearby Export Processing Zone to farming on the family property while she ended up staying at home. Then one day Aklima came to know about JITA while spending free time with the other young wives and was instantly curious at the prospect of making an income.

Aklima came to find out that one of senior women in her neighborhood, Morsheda Begum, has been working with JITA for sometime and organizes weekly meetings at the makeshift school located nearby. This leads her to proactively get in touch with Morsheda, who recommends her to JITA’s field staff for enrolment as an Aparajita. A little over eight months later, Aklima is now recognized as one of JITA’s top performing door-to-door saleswomen and maintains a loyal customer network covering a radius of nearly five kilometers. While she might not have found her dream job yet, Aklima takes pride in working as an Aparajita and making a financial contribution to her family.

Looking to the future, Aklima continues to motivate her husband to keep looking for a job that will do justice to his hard-earned degree. At the same time she hopes that JITA continues to support her, and others like her, until another opportunity presents itself. Believing that she can add more value, Aklima is keen on accepting new roles if JITA plans to introduce any in the near future that will create more space for her to grow.

(Published: 5 December, 2019)

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Fatema, an aparajita who was widowed at an early age, was able to educate her two children and build a new house because of her engagement with JITA. Like Fatema's, there are numerous stories of women who have taken on the roles of aparajitas and succeeded against the greatest odds. JITA strives to serve as a conduit for marginalized women to reach their full economic and social potential through market-based forces.

Aparajitas have proven within their communities, that women are equally capable of running their own business and hence contributing equally to household savings, purchase assets and invest in micro-enterprises such as last-mile retail outlets. Beshobala, another aparajita from North Bengal, was able to overcome the taboo of divorce and regain her dignity and acceptability in society once she had become financially independent and even built her own house in her village. Stories such as those of Beshobala and Fatema are not unique to the aparajita experience and are inspirational for thousands of women in Bangladesh. 

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Kanchan Bala

Story of struggle, hard work and perseverance of Aparajita Kanchan Bala started when her parents married her off at the age of 16. Born and brought up in a small, green and vibrant village of Saidpur district, Kanchan Bala has dedicated her youth, desire and dreams to her family –consisting of her husband, two sons and a daughter.

Early days of her married life she lived in a small house and had just a bamboo bed to sleep on. Her husband, being a day labor, was struggling to provide their children with basic needs and livelihood. Failing to come out of poverty, her eldest son dropped out of school and started to contribute to their family by working as day labor. Her daughter also got married by leaving her education in between. In desperation of holding her family strong during extreme financial crisis, Kanchan Bala started to seek out ways and sources to bring income to her family. Her first initiative was taking loans from microfinance organizations like ASA Bangladesh, Mushti Chal where she invested to lease lands and earn by cultivating crops. However, her inconsistent income during off season, flooding and drought pushed them back to financial crisis.

The greatest thing about Kanchan Bala is her undefeated soul which kept her moving forward. Without losing hope, she kept on looking for sustainable income sources when she came to know about JITA Social Business Bangaldesh Ltd, where she started to work as an Aparajita. Her profession as an Aparajita helped her not only to earn sufficient income to support her family but also to achieve social recognition and respect. While working at JITA she learned about different health, hygiene and nutrition products which improved her family’s consumption and expenditure pattern. From her earning she enlarged her house and contributed in her youngest son’s education, who recently passed HSC examination. Moreover, with her husband’s support, Kanchan Bala opened a tea stall infront of her house and also saved money for her son’s higher education. Kanchan Bala is one of the most dedicated Aparajitas in JITA whose positive spirit lights up our heart with optimism and belief. Like Kanchan Bala, we want to support and impact in many more women’s lives in the years to come.

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My husband died leaving me with two young children and no money to survive. But I survived. Because I became an Aparajita.

– Fatema

I built my house being an Aparajita, the notion completely changed the community. Now everyone is interested in my work and many women want to become an Aparajita.

– Beshobala

Our children frequently suffer from stomach problems, skin diseases. And we wonder why!!

– Village woman Rojna

We suffer greatly from the interrupted electricity service. Too much dependency toward daylight is taking us nowhere as it hampers our day to day job, household activities, children’s education. We don’t require a modern television for entertainment. Rather a superior lighting system is essential.

– Sharif, a young village farmer from North Bengal

I had no face in society as a divorced woman. Nobody helped me or showed me any respect. After I built my own house being an Aparijita, the perception completely changed in the community. Now everyone is interested in my work and many women want to become an Aparijitas.

– a village Aparijita

I have built my own house, sent my children to school, and earned respect.

– Bana