Khaleda: The Widow with Gumption

38-year-old Khaleda Khatun is the focus of today’s blog. I met her briefly when I visited Bangladesh recently. I learnt so much from Khaleda – she is a widow with gumption!

Khaleda is a Muslim woman who lives in a mostly Hindu community. Sadly her husband died unexpectedly ten years ago, leaving her with three boys aged nine, five and two years old. This scenario would have to be close to a mothers’ worst nightmare.

But Khaleda is a prime example of how tragedy can sometimes be the thing which makes a person.

It all began when she was married at the age of 20 in an arranged marriage to someone much older – it is the way for Bangla women. And Khaleda was as happy as they come. Her three boys arrived one after the other, and things looked rosy until the day her husband died of a heart attack. He ran a poultry farm, which was the only source of family income. However, Khaleda had no skills to run the business.

As a result, Khaleda “experienced physical and mental harassment from social superstition behaviour, economic hardship and lack of social protection from the community. Having no other way, she left her husband’s house and took shelter in her parents’ house in Baushi.” *

It was a hard life for Khaleda who, even while consumed with grief, fought to give her children a future, food on the table, and a stable family life.

Everything Changed

Years before, soon after Khaleda left her home village to marry, a Self Help Group (SHG), run by the PARI Development Trust, had begun. When she moved back home, the group was very supportive, she says. “The women would say, ‘Don’t be afraid, we stand with you.’”

In addition to taking out some small loans from the SHG to run a poultry farm, she received training in poultry farming, leadership development, business development and a whole lot more, including being a chicken vet! She buys little chicks, raises them by caring for and feeding them, and sells them at market as grown chickens for the table. Her dream is to expand the business and sell eggs. I told you she is a widow with gumption!

These days, Khaleda is a key member of the SHG. “She is popular in the society [and known] as a hard worker, peace maker and helper. She has good relationship with community people.” * She also encourages other female entrepreneurs by training them to be poultry farmers!

While Khaleda’s schooling finished in Class 8, her sons (now 19, 15 and 12) receive a good education at their local school, and will be better educated than she ever was. In fact, Khaleda is breaking a generational poverty cycle because of her amazing work. Her sons’ lives will be very different from her own. She is passing on such a great legacy to them.

A Typical Day for Khaleda – the widow with gumption

5am       Wake up and pray
6am       Start work feeding her 500 chickens
7am       Tutors other children in community
8am       Prepares breakfast for her sons
9am       Sons go to school, and begins housework
10am     Tends to the poultry farm
12pm     Prepares lunch for when sons return from school
1pm       Tends to the poultry farm
4pm       Prepares dinner
5pm       Prayer
7pm       Tends to the chickens – turns heat lights on
10pm     Sleep
2am       Check on chickens to protect them from foxes, cold temperature and suffocation (the chickens get cold overnight and usually clump together to keep warm, so Khaleda has to pull them apart)

What I learned from Khaleda

  • Death and despair go hand-in-hand. But it’s not the end. There is always hope! I think you will agree that Khaleda really IS a widow with gumption.
  • Lack of education does not mean lack of opportunity.
  • Lack of education does not mean you cannot be trained.
  • Good training, plus action, is the difference between a life of despair, and a life of hope.
  • Working together with others makes a huge difference – it is a way of receiving encouragement and friendship.
  • People respect hard work, friendliness and being generous with your time.
  • Christians can, and do, bring hope, love and unity to anyone, regardless of religion. Muslim and Hindu communities thrive in Bangladesh because PARI take Jesus seriously when he said: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31 NIV)
  • NEVER underestimate the capability of a mama bear who wants her children to thrive!

These principles are true no matter where you live, what your religious beliefs are, how old you are, or how much money you have. I hope you too are inspired by this simple Bangla woman, a widow with gumption, who has achieved so much for her family and her community in the face of tragedy.

BIG TAKE AWAY: Don’t ever think tragedy can be the thing that stops you . . . Often it is the very thing that makes you.

“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.” Isabel Allende

A Personal Note

I am so inspired by the work of the PARI Development Trust. (Participatory Action in Rural Innovation) In a lovely double meaning, “Pari” is the Bangla word for “I can”. This is a Christian aid agency run by local Bangla people. Their work has changed the lives of over 50,000 marginalised people in Bangladesh. Khaleda’s story is just one small snapshot of the difference PARI is making.

Baptist World Aid Australia work with in-country partners such as PARI. BWAA aim to see a world where poverty has ended, and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends.

What inspires you about Khaleda’s story? Perhaps you too, a widow with gumption? Let me know in the Comments, below . . .

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