The girl who fought back – Shumi's story

From a destructive marriage as a child and limited opportunities to become an entrepreneur, Shumi’s life has been no ordinary journey. Her will to rise out of poverty and contribute to the community is an inspiration to others. As a pioneer in many ways for her region, Shumi is keen to be a forerunner and positive example for women farmers in the new sustainably operated Village Super Market in Bangladesh.

Jannati Akhter Shumi, a community nutrition volunteer (CNV) who joined Solidaridad’s SaFaL programme in its second phase, is a confident, pro-active young woman working to not only better her own circumstances but also her community. With the opening of the Village Super Market (VSM), she is now in discussion with other CNVs – her partners in the promotion of good health and nutrition – to assess opportunities in the Village Super Market for the nutrition volunteers to join as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Shumi had to overcome extraordinarily difficult circumstances to achieve this level of independence but one would not be able to gauge the past sorrows of her life from her cheerful demeanor.

Escaping a destructive marriage

When she was just 15 years old, Shumi’s parents received, what they deemed to be, an eminently suitable proposal for marriage from a family who appeared respectable, of some political clout, wealthy and capable of caring for their daughter. In spite of her young age and wishes to be educated, Shumi found herself married to, as she discovered far too late, a veritable monster.

Her husband often abused her physically and emotionally leading to her hospitalization. At some point, she could tolerate the abuse no further but her parents were reluctant to support her wishes for a divorce. With hard determination and uncertain about the consequences, she broke free from the abuse.

Wise beyond her years, she soon took the necessary steps to secure an independent future by continuing her studies, joining in educational sessions and meetings in her village and trying to serve her community in any way she could. This is when she met the SaFaL team.

Improving her life by helping others

Shumi felt fortunate to have met the SaFaL CNVs at the nutrition sessions she attended. The volunteers guided her on her future steps to serve individuals as well as seek entrepreneurial opportunities at the same time. After being recruited as a CNV, she was trained on five topics that included:

  • sexual and reproductive health
  • rights of adolescents
  • hygiene
  • safe motherhood and caring for pregnant women
  • safe food preparation and cooking methods

She also joined a Bachelor’s of Commerce study programme while continuing to serve the community.

Since becoming a community volunteer, Shumi has been organizing awareness sessions and working with the young and the old, women and men to bring about a holistic change in the society. She is providing basic healthcare services which include blood sugar tests, body weight monitoring and blood pressure checks, among others. She ensures that pregnant women and new mothers under her purview are cared for and refers them to hospitals and clinics whenever necessary.

Gauging the genuine need for awareness, she decided to start an adolescent club where young girls and boys would join to discuss issues of importance to them along with engaging in cultural bonding activities involving dancing, singing and acting.

Shumi often spends her day caring for her sick mother and the rest of her family, visiting patients, tending to the needs of her shop and studying for her degree. With the money she earns monthly, she ensures that the costs of education for herself and her younger brothers are covered and payment for any stocks are not left pending. She meticulously manages every single detail of her shop and her household while following a simple but effective accounting system to avoid possible discrepancies.

Leading the way for women’s participation in the market

Shumi began her entrepreneurial endeavours with a small loan and the sale of everyday products. Over time, however, she discovered that along with providing services, by supplying schools with bulk hygiene products and other items to various shops, her profits would increase. With her skills, she managed a revenue generation of BDT 15,000 a month.

Shumi is aware that she still has quite a way to go in meeting the needs of her community – both in providing services and in providing items. Innovation in service provision is where she excels and noticing a demand for beauty services, she has joined a government training programme where she will be trained on the various services provided at beauty salons. Recognizing the huge sales potential a structure like the VSM might offer, she wants to enter into partnerships with her CNV colleagues and wants women to be more active in the market.

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