A Good Life is Waiting for Me
Meet Thumpa. At 16 years of age, she's slight and shy, but she's already made a decision that will change her life for the better. She has prevented her own child marriage.
Last year, her father Rashid accepted a marriage proposal for her from a wealthy family in a neighboring village. When he told Thumpa, she was horrified. Marriage would mean she would have to leave school.
'I was getting very good results in my exams, and I wanted to continue my schooling... My teachers wanted me to as well. It wasn't fair...' She stops for a moment, emotional. 'I still get upset.'
Thumpa knew what it would mean for her to marry young. As part of the Food For Peace-funded SHOUHARDO II Program, she had been a member of her village Women’s Empowerment (EKATA) group for over a year. SHOUHARDO focuses on women’s empowerment because the data proves that this has the biggest impact on childhood stunting and nutrition of any intervention.
Many of the older, married women in her EKATA group had become close friends over the last year. She turned to them for help. They talked the problem through and took it to the next EKATA meeting to raise it formally as a challenge for the whole community. The other women and girls were determined to put a stop to the marriage—and went to Thumpa’s father to convince him to stop the marriage.
The decision to put a stop to the marriage wasn't easy for Rashid. He was under a lot of pressure from family members to secure a good match for his daughter, and he panicked that he wouldn't be able to find such a good prospect later. Rashid had made a commitment and didn't want to go back on his word.
But Thumpa had started a ball rolling and now it was an avalanche. The whole community rallied to advocate for her. After a month of discussions and consideration, Rashid decided to stop the marriage.
Thumpa breaks into a wide smile as she explains how she felt. 'I was excited and happy. I have been rescued: a good life is waiting for me.'
She is determined to make a difference: this change won't just be for herself, but for all the girls in her community.
'Girls like me will become the leaders of our country. One day a woman will be the Village Chairman.'
She is encouraging conversations about early marriage between other girls, their parents and the community, to encourage families to decide to make the best decisions for their daughters. With the help of the other women and girls in her EKATA group, she is developing an action plan to teach girls like her about their rights and help parents understand the benefits of educating their daughters. She is also working with her father and the Village Development Committee to raise money to pay for the tuition fees for girls whose parents are unable to afford them.
About the Program: Thumpa is one of 1.5 million people who have benefited from the SHOUHARDO project. Funded by USAID since 2010 in nearly 2,000 of the most vulnerable communities in Bangladesh, SHOUHARDO II builds on the successes of SHOUHARDO I, where CARE learned that women's empowerment activities really did make children grow taller. A final evaluation of the project's second phase in 2015 shows that the program continues to show extraordinary successes in reducing malnutrition, improving women's economic empowerment, and building equality between men and women.