Have you ever thought much about what life is like for mothers in underdeveloped countries? You know from your own experience, that motherhood life isn’t the easiest thing. But, believe me, you cannot begin to imagine how it is for women who do not have everyday luxuries. The things we just assume, are like gold: clean water, education and nearby medical assistance. Bangla communities are slowly changing though, thanks to the Self Help Groups in Bangladesh.
Last year, I visited a Self Help Group (SHG) in remote Bangladesh. Bausi is a village about 2-hours’ drive west of the regional centre, Mymensingh, in the north of the country.
My friends and I saw the work of a group called PARI (Participatory Action for Rural Innovation). They are an indigenous aid agency whose vision states,
“We are an organisation where the poor and their communities are empowered to experience
hope, and live life to its fullest.”
It was a privilege to be shown the work of these faithful workers of PARI, who bring life-changing confidence to hundreds of communities. Our trip was an eye-opener!
Scroll down to read my story of how that day unfolded.
But first, a list of 10 Life Hacks from these Mothers of Bangladesh
Motherhood Life Hacks from Self Help Groups in Bangladesh
1. Working together is revolutionary
With the support of many others you are capable of far more than if you are alone.
This is as true for me as it is true for you. And it stands to reason – this is what it ways on the Bible:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)
2. Unforeseen tragedy can be beaten
It IS possible to keep on going when tragedy strikes.
Sometimes a difficult situation is the thing that makes it possible to break a cycle, and life turns out better than you could possibly have hoped.
We saw women who were once child brides, young widows, abused wives, women ill-treated as children, or uneducated. Encouragingly, all of them now have a hope and a future because of the support from agencies such as Baptist Aid an PARI working in their communities. But this assistance is a drop in the bucket amongst the huge population of Bangladesh.
3. Age is not a factor
It’s never too late to start a new venture.
Some of the women we met were quite elderly when they took out their first micro-loan. The training they receive as part of the SHG means they pay back the loan with the small amount of interest required, as well as putting food on the table for their families and developing their community. It’s a win all round.
4. A new way of looking at success
Going through difficulty as a youngster often builds the resilience required to be successful.
I know this because I had to face the death of my mother when I was 16. We saw uneducated women, from desperately poor families who had been married as child brides into abusive situations. Amazingly, even from this awful cocktail, women had transformed themselves, and their communities, with the support of the SHG.
Winston Churchill had it right when he said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
Most people can choose to move out of a difficult situation to something else.
True, you may feel very stuck being where you are. But, the reason women get stuck in awful situations (in any culture) is often because they are afraid of the new opportunity. However, if you banish fear from the equation, you can move into unfamiliar territory with freedom.
An SHG is a catalyst in this situation because there is the support and encouragement of others to help you, once you decide to make the move.
6. Education breaks the poverty cycle
Never underestimate the power of education.
We in the West can take our education system for granted. But it really is the difference between a life of poverty, and a life of hope and fulfillment. So be diligent, and make it easy for your children to get a good education. It really sets them up for life.
7. Health and hygiene make so much difference
For mothers in Bangladesh, health and hygiene is a matter of life and death.
We take this for granted too. We expect nothing less than clean water, good sewerage systems, and clean streets from our government. But it goes so much further, into personal territory such as hand-washing, covering your cough and sneeze, staying home when sick, getting children immunised, and eating healthy food. All these are critical to long and healthy life.
8. Cultural issues sometimes hinder development
Generational disadvantage takes courage to break free from.
In Bangladesh, paying a dowry to the groom’s family when your daughter marries, maybe when she is only 10 years old, is normal. It’s been that way for generations. Most of the women we saw were once child brides. Thankfully, it is no longer legal to marry off youngsters so early, but it still happens “under the radar”. Payment of dowry also creates huge problems, and is very slowly becoming frowned upon.
One woman declared, very loudly, that she would not expect to receive a dowry for her son’s wife. However, she said she couldn’t be sure what would be demanded for her daughter in marriage. But her daughter, sitting nearby, heard her comment and insisted: “I will not let you pay dowry for me!”
As a unit, the SHG breaks cultural norms to make these “outrageous” counter-cultural claims. Perhaps there are cultural norms we must break too. For some, this might mean breaking submission to abusive husbands; choosing to reduce sugar/wheat/dairy consumption; deciding to eat more food; breaking addictive behaviour (you know what you are addicted to); or not caving in to pressure to conform to a “type” – because the reality is, you are a unique individual.
But take courage. Like the women in Self Help Groups in Bangladesh, you can break free from all that.
9. Enjoy our maternal health system!
We are so blessed to have access to health care.
Many mothers in Bangladesh have horror birthing stories – every baby’s arrival is a life and death situation. They cannot always go to good maternity care because the roads are so bad, and transport scarce. If it were like that for us, we would have horror stories too. Even those who choose home birth here in the West, know they can opt for hospital if things turn bad.
“Even those who choose home birth here in the West, know they can opt for hospital if things turn bad.”
These mothers in Bangladesh are only just now making the connection with hospital births and safe deliveries – just as our mothers and grandmothers did in the 20th Century. In one short generation this SHG is guaranteeing better outcomes for their kids, simply because they help mothers to get to hospital and this means their kids survive!
10. Living in Community
Being seen and valued by others is an incredibly important asset.
Life has transformed for these women. They are purposely working together with one mind and purpose, and they commented how they now work together in unity. Instead of living in their own little houses, they have a vibrant community life.
This is no mean feat, given they are breaking social norms as they do it. In this SHG, Muslims and Hindus are working together in unity. They know this is abnormal. And they love it.
What they may not realise, and what I pray they will gradually discover, is that they are living in unity as Jesus calls his disciples to. And that’s radical.
How the Day Unfolded when I visited Bausi
Self Help Groups Bangladesh
Noise, Dust, Dirt. And an Unexpected Haven
The busy highway was edged with watery, green paddy fields, complete with workers in ankle-deep water. Even in these remote parts there were people dotted across the landscape. The 160 million people in Bangladesh are crowded – the population, six times the size of Australia, live in a space 2/3 the size of Victoria!
We came to a shopping strip, of open shopfronts in streets strewn with plastic, garbage and the debris of everyday living built up, kerbside. Clearly, in this culture, keeping the environment clean is not a high priority. The deep gutters next to the bitumen road give a clue to the amount of water which flows during monsoon season.
Homeowners live behind the stores where they sell their wares – small grocery shops, butchers, pharmacies, motor bike parts, saris and snacks. There is dust everywhere, coating trees, footpaths and roadsides with a thick burnished layer. A mash of dust, people and commerce. Welcome to Bangladesh.
Without warning, we turned into a lane between the shops. The side road was “unmade”, bumpy and rutted, a jolting reminder of the wet season. Soon we stopped, and found ourselves in the weak winter sunshine, following our leader along a path between houses.
Visiting the Bausi Women’s Self Help Group
We turned a corner into a courtyard surrounded by huts. These large tin sheds bordered the whole area, and while still very dusty, the space was tidy and clean – different to the busy highway.
Around half the area was spread with tarps and clean blankets, and about 30 women were seated, on three sides of a rectangle. The SHG was waiting for us. The fourth side of the space had some plastic chairs waiting for us, their guests, to sit on. But in our usual conspiracy, we elected to sit on the ground, to meet them eye-to-eye.
This SHG is changing life for the entire village. Because over the last 17 years, all the women have received small loans from PARI, with an interest rate far lower than offered by banks or loan sharks. A condition of the loan is to join this local SHG. And PARI staff give training, ranging from how to service their loans; health and hygiene; and the importance of sending their children to school. It’s clear this group of women, all of them mothers, has revolutionized their lives.
A Communion of Spirits
The MC introduced herself and welcomed us to their village. Our translator was kept very busy as each of the women spoke. They described themselves simply as “members” (of the group). Or office bearers “Secretary”, “Treasurer” or “President”. Or else, members of committees such as Child Protection, Health and Hygiene, and Environmental Care.
Environmental care? Of course! So that’s why this space is so clean.
By this time, we were mostly smiling. Making deliberate eye-contact with the women was heart-warming, as they mirrored our smiles. Somehow it was a deep communion of spirits, as if our visit allowed us deep into their souls, as these mothers in Bangladesh were seen, affirmed and valued.
The it was our turn. along with the others, I said, “Āhmi nām Jenny Baxter!” My name is Jenny Baxter.
Once we’d made our introductions, we were on equal ground. Women among women. Mothers of Australia together with mothers in Bangladesh.
We first asked for permission to take photos and share their stories – they all said: “Samasyā nē’i.” No problem.
So, these mothers in Bangladesh know their stories are being told.
Life Changes for Mothers in Bangladesh
“Who would like to tell us her story?” we asked. Several ladies raised their hands, but one was very insistent. Our translator told us she would like to tell us what happened at the very beginning, before she was part of the group.
And so, we heard the story of Khaleda – a 39 year old widow.
Khaleda’s amazing story, is found HERE >>>
Without exception, these mothers’ faces were hopeful and positive. They have a vigour for life, and family, because their futures are secure and they know their children will have a much better life then they had. These simple mothers in Bangladesh have been empowered.
After several more stories, some of the women sang us a song using their traditional instruments. (See picture above.) The song told the powerful story of a life-changing future because of of one couple’s decisions.
“Please sing!” they asked. So, that’s how I came to be singing in front of a beautiful group of Bangla women, tapping on a local tambourine, wearing my red scarf. We all laughed.
“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23 (NIV)
What inspires you about these mothers in Bangladesh? What do you see as important to value in our culture? I’d love to know! The Comments box is below.