Salma Begum: A Farming Success Story
The village is called Reshambari. Reshambari is about 8 km to the west of Shahzadpur Upazila. From afar, the houses look like islands dispersed all around. Looking at the hay, stacked over 100 feet high, it is obvious that this village is well-off. The trees stand like guards defying the intense heat. Suddenly there is a cool breeze, and it threatens to rain. The only road for traveling here is a dirt road. The only ways of getting around are traveling by motorbike, bicycle or by foot. I'm sitting on a motorbike. The road in front of me is flooded. It could be another hour till I reach Reshambari, all due to yesterday's rain.
I am going to visit a revolutionary woman of this village: Salma Begum. You might find her boiling boro rice. When she heard that I had come to visit, she came up to greet me. She was firm and strong in a way that she had not been ten years ago. She was married off in another underprivileged village. The land there was not fertile. She never had enough to eat. Her life was harsh, she had to skip most meals. Now, Salma Begum is self-sufficient. Salma Begum, 40, has radically improved her life through a lot of dedication and some stubbornness. Disheartened that she could not give her children adequate nutrition, she decided that she would feed them cow's milk. So she decided to buy a cow. Her family objected. Taking a 5000 taka loan from a cooperative society and selling her own earrings for 2000 taka, she bought a calf. Now she had to worry not only about what she would eat, but what she would feed the calf. Early in the morning she would run off run off to gather grass for the animal. In a year, the calf started giving milk, but once again Salma's family stood in her way. They didn't seem to want her to engage in any productive work. Her husband even threatened to divorce her but she did not give up her work. One fine day, when she discovered that her husband got remarried, she knew she would have to be stronger. Now she is the owner of nine calves. Salma has sent her elder son to Malaysia. He says he is doing well. She had 2 bighas of land, which are not bearing crops. She has bought an additional ten bighas of land. She collects the cow dung which she gives to a bio gas plant. In 2003, this bio-gas was used for cooking. When asked how she is doing, she said her life is improving every day. The struggle she has been engaged in for 10 years is bearing fruit.
Salma has four daughters and three sons. There were too many mouths to feed but by the time she found out about birth control, it was too late. Salma Begum herself is illiterate but she wants her children to be educated. She has the usual dreams for her children; that one day they'll grow up to be doctors and lawyers. There are no doctors in the village of Reshambari, only some quacks and unqualified village doctors. She is determined to get her children well educated. To her credit, her elder son has passed his HSC and her elder daughter has passed her SSC examination. She herself is making herself literate through adult education programs.
Salma Begum looks after her land and her farm together. She gets her shovel and heads off to the fields. Even while she struggled financially, she dreamt of someday owning 200 to 300 cows. She says, “I do my own work. I don't give my hard earned money to others. My money stays with me.”
She is now totally independent. Everyday she sends a portion of her milk produce to the cooperative society. The milk is selling well. Her land is also giving good yields. When her Australian calves get sick, she tends to them herself. She says that after all her expenses, she is left with a profit of about Tk. 6000. When asked how her life is going now, she says, “Now a lot of people come to visit my farm. Even my husband has left his second wife and he comes to help me out. All my relatives are proud of me. Now I feel respected in my community.” She expressed her gratitude towards People's Program Development or 'PPD' for her success. When asked what her future plans were, Salma Begum said, “I employed a divorced woman in my farm. Not out of charity, but to give her a job. I want more downtrodden, helpless women to be able to find jobs and stand on their feet. I will give them work. Because I understand what it is to be poor.”
(R) thedailystar.net 2007