Ethnic people get a new lifeline

DHAKA, May 23, 2017 (BSS) - Rita Mali (35) is no more a poor woman. She is now economically self-reliant as her socio-economic condition improved to a great extent.

The credit goes to the Social Safety Net Programme, launched by the government to support ultra-poor and cut poverty to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Rita, a landless ethnic woman of Chhatinali village under Panchbibi upazila of Joypurhat district, was unable to manage three meals a day for herself, four daughters and her ailing husband only a few years ago.

Now, she sends her children to school, helps her husband to run his small business besides earning the cost of foods and treatment for her family.

Her life has changed a lot. Now, she is dreaming of her children's higher education, buying land and starting a business in her locality to improve her economic conditions further.

"My family did not have any other property than a little house on a small piece of land on three decimals. I used to work as a housemaid which was not enough to feed my six members family," said Rita while talking to BSS at her village home.

She said her husband Nikhil Mali (45) used to work in a tailoring shop on daily wage. He, however, could not continue the job due to illness.

Against this backdrop, Rita was desperate to get a better means of earning to support her family. One day she came to know from a worker of a non-government organisation about the Social Safety Net Programme of the government. Eventually, she went to Awlai Union Parishad office and started working in the government's 40 days programme.

Since then, Rita has been earning Taka 7,000 a month by working under the programme. The value of this amount is immense for her family. Her elder daughter, who was studying in a BRAC school, received Taka 15,000 as education stipend.

Together with her savings and her daughter's scholarship, she bought a cow, which gave birth to a calf.

"My poverty has gone, I am now self sufficient. I earn Taka 70 to 80 per day by selling cow milk. The cow and the calf can also be sold for Taka 40,000 to 50,000," said a happy Rita.

Like Rita, Bithi Mali, another ethnic co-villager, used to work in government's 40-day Social Safety Net Programme.

A day labourer's wife Bithi could not manage daily meal for her family. Now, the landless lady has a saving from her earnings to set up a small poultry farm. She hoped that her dream would come true should the safety-net programme continues in her area.

The government has undertaken a massive Social Safety Net Programme across the country especially for the ethnic people in the plain land aimed at scaling down the number of ultra-poor people. This programme has already started improving the living standard of the ethnic people.

When this correspondent visited different villages, including Chhatinali, Luxmipur and Kadmia under Awlai union of Panchbibi upazila in Joypurhat district, he found that ethnic people's participation in the government's Social Safety Net Programme has increased significantly in the recent years.

Over 2,000 ethic people live in Awlai union. They do not have any land property. Most of them have no access to modern day's facilities like electricity and paved roads.

These problem, however, were not obstacles to bring Anna Kujo ((27) under the Social Safety Net Programme, in providing her with a VGF (Vulnerable Group Feeding) card. "We did not get any support from the government in the past...Even we did not know what VGF card was," said Anna.

"I have gotten my VGF card through Union Parishad, which brought an end to my long struggle for food," she said, expressing her gratitude to the government.

Devid Kujo (80), a beneficiary of elderly allowance initiated by the government, also shared the same feeling.

Awlai Union Parishad Chairman Abdul Razzak Mandal said nearly 3,000 poor people in his union are now under different Social Safety Net Programmes.

Among those, 300 people belong to ethnic group while 30.0 percent of the total allocation of the safety net programme has been kept for the ethnic minority, he said.

Project Director of Establishing Vulnerable Peoples Rights and Access to social safety net programmes (EVPRA) of World Vision Shantanu Kumar Saha said a total of 5,500 ultra poor ethnic people in five upazilas under Joypurhat district have been included in the programmes due to their advocacy programme.

He suggested increasing allocation to the project since the present allocation is not enough against the demand.

Planning Minister A H M Mustafa Kamal told BSS that allocation and number of beneficiaries of the Social Safety Net Programme would increase in the next financial year.

"The allocation would be raised in the coming 2017-18 financial year," he said adding that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved by keeping the eligible people out of the programme.

The minister added that all ethnic groups, both in the hill tracts and plain land, would be brought under the mainstream of national development initiatives to achieve the SDGs.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)