By learning how to make an income and establishing herself, Saleha was able to empower others
When Saleha first got married, she was dependent not only on her husband but also her husband's maternal uncle. They had to live in his house and lease his land to grow crops, giving him one third of everything they produced. After four years of living this way, Saleha wanted to improve her situation and did everything in her power to do so.
With the NGO JSK, she started her first salaried job. She simultaneously started doing tailoring work, taking orders for clothes from her neighbors. Between these two endeavours as well as her husband’s savings, she was able to buy a plot of land so she could start growing rice and maize of her own. She slowly built herself up, buying a goat, then a cow, and lastly poultry to increase her profits. As soon as she had enough savings, she bought more land so that she could expand her agricultural work. Three years after she started working outside the home, she owned 2.5 bigha of land.
When Saleha joined PROTIC in 2016, she learned how to properly space her maize. In combination with using disaster resilient seeds, she was able to double her production. She started growing vegetables in shady and sandy areas, places that she thought were unusable. She also learned that planting banana trees by the riverbank would prevent her land from being washed away by erosion, in addition to bananas being a marketable fruit. Together with her profits, her husband’s savings, earnings from selling their cow and three goats, and a couple of loans, she was able to buy another plot of land for her house in 2017. She had finally achieved what she set out to do.
However, it was not in Saleha’s nature to stop at helping herself only. She had a strong drive to help others who were struggling because she understood struggle herself. She gave back to her community by putting in her time, effort, energy, resources, and connections to help others. When she saw her neighbour losing land through river bank erosion, Saleha gave some of her banana trees explaining from her experience why planting the trees would help. Her neighbour listened to her advice and benefitted from the protected river bank. Saleha was also the go-to person for medicines, carrying paracetamol, iron tablets, family planning medicine, and more on her. When she got to know about an incoming storm through a PROTIC sms, she warned her neighbours to bring in their pumpkins and vegetables so that they would not get ruined. She also took the elderly, pregnant women, and widows to the Union Parishad office so that she could get them enrolled in government services that would provide them stipends. These are among countless other examples of how she was in service to others.
That is why it was no surprise that when a case of domestic violence broke out in the community, neighbors ran to her house to ask her to mediate the conflict. Saleha ran as soon as soon as she could to stop the couple Anarul and Bilkis, who were fighting over money. Anarul wanted to spend his earnings however he pleased, while Bilkis, his wife, wanted to invest his earnings by buying a cow or leasing land. Saleha spoke to Anarul first to try to make him understand that his wife wanted to spend the money in ways that would earn him more money. When he would not bend, she threatened him with a domestic violence case, as Bilkis was bleeding from one of his blows. Saleha brought Bilkis back to her house and took care of her. Later that day, Anarul came to Saleha’s house to repent and ask for Bilkis’s forgiveness, which she accepted. The couple no longer broke out in violence during an argument, as Anarul knew where to draw the line. This is one of Saleha’s many ways that she was able to help her community.
We learned from Saleha that having knowledge, respect, and connections is empowering. By knowing how to make an income and establishing herself, Saleha was able to empower others, including her neighbour Bilkis. That empowerment came from having enough money, earned through informed actions that can be guided by technology.
Tania Ahmed and Mity Mahmuda are research officers at ICCCAD.