March 29, 2021

From Tailoring to Union Parishad Election, Jonaki’s Success against Poverty

Posted By Razu Ahmed,Technical Officer Off-farm, Livelihood and Financial Inclusion- Nikli, Kishoreganj, SHOUHARDO III, POPI

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Jonaki Akter (36), from Sanaulla-Hati, Chattirchar, Nikli, Kishoreganj, recently became a Sanchay Shathi (‘Savings companion’ in English, mobilized in SHOUHARDO III as Local Service Providers (LSP) for Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA)) followed by the training conducted by SHOUHARDO III in October 2020. Jonaki means Firefly in English; this is her life story of rising from poverty and becoming a recognized member in her community.

Jonaki with her sewing machine taking forward her tailoring business
Jonaki, unfortunately follows the fate of rural Bangladeshi girls who were married off at a young age. Her husband, Tazul, is also from a poor family and her dream of living a better life after this life event did not materialize. They lived in a shanty which had damaged fence walls and roof. Water came pouring down into their home whenever it rained as she or her husband couldn’t afford the means to repair it. Eventually, Jonaki gave birth to three children, and the hold of poverty on her family became stronger. As a day laborer, her husband couldn’t manage basic food needs to feed the family of five. In order to survive, Jonaki begged to other’s houses in search of food. To overcome these, Jonaki decided that she wants to do something to meet the family needs, as her husband’s lone income wasn’t adequate for the entire family. When SHOUHARDO III came to her village in March 2016, she got the opportunity to be included as a program participant and received a training on tailoring. She soon started her tailoring work and generated an additional income of about BDT 4,500 (USD $53) per month. She also received additional training on life skills that improved her communication, business planning and negotiation skills. Since then, her life changed gradually.

Jonaki conducting preparatory meeting after SS training
In 2019, Jonaki was selected to be trained as a Sanchay Shathi (SS) of SHOUHARDO III program. This initiative is one of the effective pilots by SHOUHARDO III that promote savings through group formation and has a sustainability approach that goes beyond the program lifetime. As an SS, Jonaki formed a VSLA group where she is working as an account keeper from 2019. She inspired others, especially women in her community to prioritize saving through community groups. Many listened to her and succeeded in saving an amount that later helped them through their time in need. Jonaki didn’t stop at promoting the importance of savings only, she held discussions with her community on important topics such as violence against women (VAW) and child marriage. Through these discussions, she became a known face to the women in the community and were often consulted on matters of VAW and child marriage, and mitigated and stopped a few incidents respectively. Through her dedication and motivational work, she gradually became one of the trusted, recognized and well-respected person in her community. She also sought and received support from the local government offices to stop VAW and child marriages by her own effort, which made her known to the local government officers. Her activities also allowed her to act as a bridge between the local elites and community when local mitigation sittings took place. Gradually she became a connection among the mass, elites, and public offices, which led her to become a candidate at the Union Parishad election for Ward no. 7, 8 and 9 in her village at the end of 2020.

Union Parishad election poster of Jonaki wishing everyone on the occasion of the glorious Victory Day and English New Year
Alongside engaging with the community in important matters like VAW, Jonaki had a plan to increase her business and took a loan of BDT 7,200 BDT (USD $85) from her VSLA group. She established a cloth shop in her home with the loan money, which contributed to a gradual increase in income as the business was gaining profits. She took loans of the same amount another two times and kept on increasing her business. This helped immensely when COVID-19 pandemic struck, as Jonaki and her family survived with her diligent savings from this income despite the loss of her and her husband’s income. Many families suffered and fell back into poverty, whereas Jonaki could maintain hers with the great support of the VSLA share out money from which she received 5,200 BDT (USD 61.2). Observing her success, Jonaki received another SS training to form more groups in the following months. She is a role model for many in the community as she built her life from extreme poverty and came all the way to become nominated for Ward membership. She is an inspiration to many women in her village. Jonaki shared, “I was determined to improve my life and the situation of my family, I learnt from SHOUHARDO III and used that learning to work hard through VSLA, tailoring business becoming a responsible community member, and for my family. SHOUHARDO III helped me a lot, now I want to give back to my community by improving their lives.

Translated by: Nasir Uddin Mina, Upazila Coordinator- Nikli, Kishoreganj, SHOUHARDO III, POPI
Edited by: Sairana Ahsan, Reporting and Documentation Manager, SHOUHARDO III, CARE Bangladesh