Community Agriculture Volunteer: A Successful Front-liner of the SHOUHARDO II Program

Community Agriculture Volunteer: A Successful Front-liner of the SHOUHARDO II Program

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By
Marium Ul Mutahara, CARE Bangladesh

Agriculture is the single largest producing sector of the Bangladesh economy, and both the government and NGOs are providing extensive support to this sector. To provide the beneficiaries involved in agricultural activities with services at their doorstep, the SHOUHARDO II program facilitates Community Agriculture Volunteers. Community Agriculture Volunteers are working in program areas as a change maker. Their major responsibilities include formation of occupational groups, providing technical support, creating linkages with government and other service providers, and conducting courtyard sessions and trainings. 

Sharifa Khatun, who is 25 years old, is a Community Agricultural Volunteer (CAV) of the Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities Program (SHOUHARDO) II and lives in a village called Hashraj, which is part of Sonatola Upazila within the Bogra District in Bangladesh. Sharifa joined the SHOUHARDO II program in June 2011 and has since received multiple levels of training. The training has given her the opportunity to become skilled in different areas, such as preparing agricultural beds, planting seeds, making and using compost, using pesticide, and rearing poultry and vaccinating them. Sharifa has also developed important networks with officers of the government’s Agriculture and Livestock departments and has been asked to conduct courtyard sessions on their behalf to educate other villagers in her community.

Back in 2007, Sharifa and her mother initiated a savings group, Green Women's Forum, in their village after being inspired by a similar group in a neighboring village. After about four months, it was so successful that Sharifa and her mother managed to get their savings group registered by the Women Affairs Department. Around this time, Sharifa received three months livestock vaccination training and subsequently went on to arrange a vaccination camp in her village, vaccinating the chickens of her neighbors. Sharifa did this because even before joining the SHOUHARDO II program later as a CAV, Sharifa had her own interest in agricultural activities. Earlier, Sharifa had raised goats to earn money, and she had a savings of BDT 40,000 ($16). When Sharifa married, she had to hand all of her earnings over to her husband. Unfortunately, her husband wasted all of the money, and problems started to occur in their marriage which, after five years, consequently led to a marriage breakdown and separation. Following the separation, Sharifa had no option but to live back at her parents’ house. Unfortunately, Sharifa was then considered a burden in her poor father’s family and was treated differently by other people in her neighborhood. This started to affect Sharifa, causing her mental stress and angst, so much in fact that she didn’t want to go outside and spent most of her time in the confine of her house.

 

When Sharifa joined the SHOUHARDO II program and got a job as a Community Agricultural Volunteer, her confidence started to increase. Sharifa soon realized that she is in fact not a burden on her family. People now recognize her as a CAV and have more respect for her. People in the community often consult her regarding any problems and queries they may have on livestock, and she now has support from Union Parishad members, officers of the Department of Livestock and veterinarians.

Since starting as a Community Agricultural Volunteer, Sharifa has been depositing BDT 1,000 ($13) into the savings group each month, where as she previously could only deposit about BDT 10 ($0.13) each month. Last year, she bought a cow with her savings worth BDT 15,000 ($194), which recently bore a calf. She also leased a pond for fish cultivation, costing BDT 10,000 ($129) over 2 years with an initial investment of BDT 4,000. After four months, she sold fish worth BDT 10,000 ($129), making a net profit of BDT 5,000 ($64), which she used for buying fry (baby fish) again. Sharifa used the skills she had learned from the training to cultivate vegetables in six beds. Once she had met her family's nutritional needs, she distributed the rest among her neighbors. This means Sharifa no longer needs to buy vegetables from the market and also helps those in needs around her. Following the training she received through the SHOUHARDO II program, Sharifa now knows the methods of seed preservation and is preserving seeds for the next cultivation period.

Her interaction with the SHOUHARDO II non-beneficiaries is equal to her personal achievements. She motivates them to prepare garden beds and to use compost for better cultivation. Sharifa's practical approach of informing them creates enthusiasm among the people. They have accepted her as an agriculture volunteer with positivity.

Before becoming a Community Agricultural Volunteer, Sharifa’s mobility was very limited, and she usually didn't go anywhere alone. However, she is now much more confident and can move around alone a lot more freely and gain access to services from different service providers. An example being that one of her neighbors had an accident and was taken to a hospital where the treatment was unaffordable for her. Sharifa helped her by taking her to the government hospital in the town where she contacted the doctors and managed to secure the operation free of cost. Sharifa then brought her neighbor back home after the operation, buying her medicines and taking care of her until she was recovered.

Her association, Green Women's Forum, was registered by the Youth Development Department, and Sharifa sends the members of the association to different training events at different times. Recently she has organized a seven-day small business training course under the Youth Development Department for a group of 40 villagers. The trainer will come to their village to provide the training. The group contains both SHOUHARDO II beneficiaries and other villagers.

Sharifa is the first woman in her family to take on employment. After seeing her success and the difference she has made to herself and her community, other women in her family have the desire to follow in her footsteps and find work. Seeing Sharifa’s mobility has motivated many women in her community to move alone and take their cattle to visit the vet by themselves when needed. She said, "SHOUHARDO II is behind all the changes that I went through. Getting all this respect and recognition would not have been possible without SHOUHARDO II."

Sharifa is a high school graduate and is now planning to pursue a college degree. Sharifa expects to continue her journey and move on with the changes in her life even after SHOUHARDO II stops providing her with support. Sharifa's mother was once very worried about her daughter's future, but now she is confident and happy that her daughter can make her own way in life.

 

Sharifa Khatun is a Community Agricultural Volunteer (CAV) of the Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities Program (SHOUHARDO) II.

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