Salma Begum was born 30 years ago in the village of Baghua in Bangladesh. She was just 9 years old, in grade 4, when her parents decided that she would marry one of her cousins. Salma, adamantly opposed, told her parents, “No, I will continue my reading.” But her parents would not back down from their decision. They took her out of school and, in July of 2000, she was married to Rofiqul Islam.
When she went to live in her husband's house, she was confronted with extreme poverty. The house was small and narrow, made of jute sticks and bamboo with an iron sheet roof. They ate only one or two times a day−and sometimes they had nothing. She became very angry with her parents as well as her husband and mother-in-law.
Salma said she behaved badly with her family members, to the point of not talking to them for many years and not working to help the family. Her husband and in-laws became very angry with her.
The couple had a daughter in 2005. “I had nothing to say to my parents and to my husband,” Salma said. “I was silent with shock with what I had wanted and what I actually got. Several times I tried to leave this house and wanted to be independent and continue my studying, but I could do none of that after my daughter was born.”
Salma joined the Belly Women's Group and the Values-Based Holistic Community Development project in November 2008, and slowly her life began to change. It was hard at first; her husband and family members did not allow her to join the group or the group activities. However, she was determined to get involved and change her life. “Many days I attended the group meeting without informing my husband and relatives, and I also attended trainings without permission of my husband and mother-in-law,” Salma said. “I had a strong desire to do something for my well-being."
After Salma received training on Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, she said, “I understood that I have to change myself first. I have to behave well with my family and have to do some development activities for my family. After receiving the Cornerstones training, I found something changed in my heart. I felt ashamed of my previous behavior with my husband and mother-in-law.”
She also received Gender and Justice training, and discussed what she learned with her husband. She invited him to join the training for the men. After receiving the trainings and gifts, her husband understood the group activities and permitted Salma to join.
Salma multiplies her work in different sectors, and she is a good housewife and mother. After receiving the self-help group (SHG) management training, she bought a sewing machine and learned tailoring from a village woman. In December 2009, she received a small interest-free loan of 3,000 takas, or about $38, from the group fund. At the same time, she received a male calf from the project. In April 2010, she bought two goats for 3,000 takas, or about $38, from her tailoring income.
With one male calf, one sewing machine, two goats and her handicrafts, Salma transformed her life into a more socially and economically sustainable one. She has purchased additional livestock and even donated money to the village Mosque/Madrasa and to her sister-in-law, who is paralyzed and unmarried, to buy a goat.
She bought a small piece of land in July 2011 and even got her husband to contribute some money. By cultivating her land, she produced paddy, pulse (a grain legume) and lentils, which earned additional income. Salma earned income from dressmaking, selling handicrafts and teaching dressmaking. She is now using some of her income to repair her old house.
In December 2010 Salma participated in a Passing on the Gift® (POG) and passed on gifts to a new POG member. She also gives her kitchen garden vegetables and handicrafts to fellow group members and the poor women in her village.
Before the Heifer project, Rofiqul and Salma had no land and lived in a very small house. Her mother-in-law and sister–in-law also lived in a very small house. Now, their house is bigger and better, made of wood, concrete pillars and an iron sheet, and she has repaired her mother-in-law’s house. She turned her old house into the cow shed after repairing it. “Now my cow shed is better than that house in which I lived,” she said.
Salma received five trainings from the project, and her husband received two. According to Salma, “When my husband received Cornerstones and Gender and Justice training, he also understood me.” Things improved in her household. Now she is taking care of her mother–in-law and other family members, as well. She is teaching the village women dressmaking and handicrafts.
Salma is the treasurer of the Belly Women’s Group and can properly manage and keep the group savings records without the assistance of project staff. Group members honor her for her activities. Her husband and mother-in-law and other relatives respect her.
Salma said, “Everybody, including my husband, now asks my opinion and suggestions for decisions−without my decision nothing happens.”