First person: Shamima Akter

A field organizer for an MCC partner shares about her work with women living along the Jamuna River in northwest Bangladesh.

A woman smiling in front of a lush forest

Bangladesh — May 2024

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From my childhood, I have lived by the Jamuna River. I love this place. Many faces I know from my childhood, and my relatives are living here.

But my family has moved four times because of flooding or erosion. In 1993, when I was in fourth grade, our village was washed away into the river. It took only seven days for the whole village to be underwater. I still cry when I think of it.

We took shelter on an embankment. All the people were in the same situation, so we could not help each other. Eventually my mother’s uncle bought land for us where we took shelter and built a house.

Later, in 2011, a cyclone swept up everything from our family’s homestead. I was in Dhaka at the time with my brother and my sister-in-law. When my mother called me to tell me that everything was gone, I fainted.

We went home, but we couldn’t use the roads because everywhere there were trees, housing materials and other things that blocked the road. We used the fields to get there. Some people had given my parents bread, so they had only that food and the clothes they were wearing.

I have a bachelor’s degree in social science, and I once worked with the Bangladesh Department of Women Affairs. I have been with Maitree Palli Unnayan Sangathon (MPUS, an MCC partner) since April 2021, but I worked with other organizations that partnered with MCC for nine years before that. Now I am married and have two children, and I can walk from my house to the river in five minutes.

Shamima Akter and colleague Jannatul Naim address a group of women. MCC/Fairpicture photo/Fabeha Monir

When I see women in the communities where MPUS works, I feel for them. When the floodwaters come, they can’t sleep at night, and there are no employment opportunities. When there is no work, there is no food.

In this time, people also suffer from diseases or health problems, especially the children or older people, and there’s no way to take them to the doctor. There are not enough boats. Also, if someone dies during the floods, there’s no place to bury them. That is a very hard time.

At present the flooding is coming four or five times a year, but earlier it was not like that. Now, with more frequent floods, people are struggling more and suffering with the prices of food. But they cannot afford to live somewhere else.

As part of disaster preparedness, we encourage women to have some first aid materials, such as medicine. We also ask them to keep some dry food in a dry place in case of a disaster.

We advise people to make raised trellises where they can stay during floods, and to have candles and matches and mats to use at nighttime. If someone is sick and there’s no boat to get to the hospital, we suggest they make a boat with the banana tree.

We have employment programs like vocational training and are trying to involve the youth with some income-generating activities. They are receiving skill development training, and some of them are working.

I am responsible for nine groups of 20 women each. MPUS is not able to help all the women in the same way. So, if there are 20 members in a group, maybe two of them receive a goat. Two get ducks. Two get hanging vegetable gardens. If a woman receives a goat, she gives the first female kid to another woman in the group. In this case, the first woman can sell the next kid from her goat in the market.

I’m thankful to MCC and MPUS because when people are suffering and passing hard times, we are able to help them. I feel good when I can stand by their side. Sometimes, though, when my help is not enough for a family, I feel really bad.

I am motivated to work for the people because I also have gone through this hard time. When I see the women’s suffering, I can feel it very well. I can help them. I can make suggestions. When I am busy with this work, I can forget all my past sufferings.

When the beneficiaries from my nine groups and members of other groups come to the office and see me, they hug and talk with me. That feels good. I am having a good life because I’m working in the project.

Shamima Akter is field organizer for MCC partner Maitree Palli Unnayan Sangathon (MPUS). She helps women living along the Jamuna River develop
their skills and support their families despite poverty and increasing flooding.

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