“My pen is full”: How single mothers are breaking the cycle of poverty in Cox’s Bazar
A UNICEF economic empowerment programme reunites children with their families
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“There was nothing else I could think about. She was on my mind all the time,” says Minuara, remembering the time when she had to give up her six-year-old child to an orphanage, and her voice breaks.
She had been raising her daughter Akhimoni as a single mother. Her husband, a fisherman, went to the sea when Minuara was one month pregnant and never came back.
“I made 4,000 Bangladeshi Taka a month (40 USD), working as a housemaid, and it wasn’t enough to send my daughter to school and buy food,” she explains.
The orphanage, attached to an Islamic religious school, provides three meals a day, lodging and education. Sending her daughter there was the most excruciating decision Minuara has ever had to make.
For the first three months in the orphanage, Akhimoni couldn’t stop crying. Equally heartbroken, Minuara couldn’t bear to look her little girl in the eye. During the weekly visits, she would hide behind the entrance gates and watch her daughter from afar. She had to skip meals to save money for trips to the orphanage.
Reunited with families
It has been four years since Minuara gave up her child. She still lives in a tiny house, with plastic sheets as walls, in a remote area of Cox’s Bazar. But there is a new bamboo structure next to her hut. It’s her very own shop.
In March 2022, she was selected to participate in a UNICEF project funded by the European Union that helps 2,000 poor families to earn an income from small businesses and improve their nutrition and overall well-being.
Malnutrition remains a public health concern in Cox’s Bazar, where 25 out of 100 children fail to grow to the height typical for their age and every 10 in 100 children are too thin for their height. Vulnerable populations face difficulties accessing food in the quantity and quality required to meet their calorie and nutrient needs.
“I’ve learned how to prepare feed for hens, protect them against disease and to help chicks hatch. I received a chicken pen and 10 Sonali chickens. I also bought four local breed chickens. They are more in demand, and I can sell them for 480 ($4.5) Taka per kilo.”
Minuara plans to increase the number of chickens at her small farm to 26 before she starts selling them, but she’s already selling eggs. With the cash support she received from UNICEF, she opened a small shop in her community. In addition to eggs, she now sells snacks popular with children: puffed rice, jhalmuri and chanachur.
Her biggest joy, however, was being able to bring her daughter back home. With her new source of income, Minuara can now comfortably feed her family and meet their basic needs.
“When I shared the news with Akhimoni, she was so happy, and she cried and cried. But this time these were tears of joy. When I brought her home, she was very thin and had scabies,” she recalls.
I’m very proud of my mother who started a small business. I like to help her look after our chickens.
Home at last, Akhimoni could not have been any happier. Her joy is shared by 15-year-old Tania, who was also sent to the orphanage because her mother could not make ends meet and who is also now back home.
For every child, nutritious food
It’s too painful for Tania’s mother, Monjura Begum, to talk about it. She’s another example of how food insecurity can wreck people’s lives.
“Let’s focus on the positive. I couldn’t afford a single egg for Eid celebrations and now, because of UNICEF’s support, I have twenty-two,” she shows a basket full of eggs and her face lights up.
A mother of four, Monjura had sent two of her daughters to an orphanage because she couldn’t afford their education and food. She had to travel long distances for gruelling work in the field, harvesting chili peppers, for 150 taka per day ($1.45). Now, after being trained and receiving ten baby chicks from UNICEF, she earns a living raising chickens and selling eggs.
Poultry rearing is a simple and easy way to create income in a small female-headed homesteads. It also gives women, children and adolescent girls from poor families nutritious, diversified and affordable diets.
“I could sell more eggs to make more money, but my children love eating them, and it’s a good source of protein. I can finally feed them nutritious food. Tania is constantly asking if she can eat the chicken called Kalo as well, but I always say, ‘You will do no such thing. They are like my babies.’”
For both Monjura and Minuara, it is not only their pens that are full – their hearts are too.