Char is a Bangla word for isolated river islands, which form throughout Bangladesh’s extensive river systems.
Given how remote the chars are, there is poor access to schools and health care. The communities living on the chars often have to travel long distances to the mainland to access these and other essential services. There is no electricity and opportunities to earn a living—either through farming or employment—are very limited. Annual flooding and erosion mean that the homes and assets of char dwellers are at risk of being washed away. As a result, these people are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
Rahima lives on a char on the Jamuna river. She is a participant of the Chars Livelihoods Programme. Her husband is a day labourer (earning around $1.50 a day) when work is available. They have four grown children. Before her involvement in the program, Rahima’s family could not afford three meals a day. In 2007, Rahima’s family plunged further into poverty when her eldest daughter married; they had to take a loan to pay a dowry of $211 to the groom’s family. Although illegal, paying a dowry is a traditional and common practice in rural Bangladesh.
Following her daughter’s marriage, a dispute broke out when the groom’s family demanded more money. As Rahima’s husband was not able to pay any more, their daughter was forced to leave her husband’s house, but only after being severely beaten. She returned to her parent’s house to live; one more mouth to feed. With no access to legal services for many poor in Bangladesh, this sad tale is unfortunately common in Bangladesh.
On joining the program in 2008, Rahima was given a cow and training on how to care for her cow, and on how to grow vegetables for her family to eat and sell. She also received vegetable seeds and fertiliser, and a small stipend for 18 months. To prevent her assets being washed away, the program elevated her house plot above the flood level. Rahima also received training on social and legal awareness. She learned that paying or asking for a dowry was illegal and she was also made aware of the negative impact this practice has, particularly on poor families.
A woman carries her child while tending to the cow she received as part of Chars Livelihoods Programme.
Photo: Mahmud/Map, CLP
After one year of participating in the program, Rahima’s cow had calved and she was able to sell 10 litres of milk each day at the local market. With the availability of milk and homegrown vegetables, Rahima’s family had better access to nutritious food. After two years, the value of Rahima’s assets had grown considerably as had her family’s resilience to poverty. Since joining the program, Rahima has saved 10 to 30 taka (the equivalent of 15–45 cents) every week with a village savings group formed with other participants.
‘When the calf is old enough to sell, I will use the money from the cow and my savings to lease some farming land to grow rice,’ Rahima said. This will diversify her source of income and help her break the cycle of poverty.
Reference : breaking the poverty cycle