Kicking Open Doors and Discovering New Possibilities Through Graduation
By Upoma Mahbub, Advocacy Manager, Ultra-Poor Graduation program in Bangladesh
It was October 17th, 2019, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The BRAC head office in Dhaka, Bangladesh was holding an event with two special guests: Razia Khatun, a promising player on the Bangladeshi women’s national football team and her mother Abiran Bibi. Abiran was a previous participant of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program, founded and implemented at scale in Bangladesh to help people lift themselves from extreme poverty through sustainable livelihoods.
In Bangladesh, a traditionally-oriented country, it is still somewhat uncommon to see women playing sports in the open, especially outside of main urban centers like Dhaka. Those living in extreme poverty do not generally have the luxury of such leisure activities, as all of one’s time, money and attention is simply focused on the struggle to survive. It is for this reason that Razia and her mother’s determination to overcome so many obstacles garner even more celebration and applause.
Because of this we were eager to learn how both mother and daughter defied all odds to make their dreams a reality. But when Abiran arrived, she refused to take a seat on the stage. This was the first time she had crossed her village boundary, and she was too shy and nervous to speak in front of ‘city folks’.
Razia, on the other hand, did not have such a problem. As a football player, she has visited many countries for games and has achieved multiple victories for the nation. Without any hesitation, she took her seat and calmly answered all the questions for the panel discussion.
“When I was a kid my relatives and neighbours used to tell my mother to have me married off,” Razia said. “They used to ask her, ‘Why are you allowing Razia to play football with boys in the field? It is a forbidden act. What would you answer to God?’ My mother would always reply, ‘You do not need to worry about that. It is I who will give an answer to him, not you!’”
“‘What a great surprise’, I thought. ‘Is this the same Abiran, who was sitting so nervously in the front row, making such strong statements?’”
“I realized then that for every mother, regardless of where they come from and the struggles they face, fulfillment of her children’s dreams and creating a path for a better life is the highest priority, and they will do everything in their power to make those dreams a reality.”
Working with extreme poor women has shown the Bangladesh UPG team how women like Abiran have to fight deep-rooted poverty, negative social norms, and even their own conservative families and neighbors to improve their children’s wellbeing. There are hundreds of thousands of female program participants raising their children without a husband, eating less so their children can have more, and doing extra work to keep their children in school longer, all to give them a better life. These women utilize the support and mentorship they receive from UPG coaches and the Village Social Solidarity Committees to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the household, but also to help their children pursue their aspirations and further their development — just as Abiran did for Razia.
Studies show that even after “graduating” from the program, 95 percent of participating households continue on an upward socioeconomic trajectory. Access to resources and opportunities that were previously unavailable enable children of former participants, like Razia, to further improve their families’ status.
We, the entire UPG programme team, are very proud of all the children of current and past participants who are continuing their education, studying at university, running their own businesses, employed in the formal sector including government services, helping their mothers with their own enterprises, and beyond.
We strongly believe the Graduation approach not only helps women lift themselves out of the poverty trap to start walking on the pathway to prosperity, but also encourages mothers like Abiran to fully utilize the support they receive to help their children reach their full and rightful potential. These mothers are the best mentors for their children and serve as inspiration for all of BRAC as we continue with our work toward a world free of poverty in all its forms.