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Anju Begun, 35, had fallen in a deep trouble when her husband Wahab Miah died two years ago suffering from cancer for a long time.

Recalling her good days at Halkarchar village of Dewanganj in Jamalpur where she had been living since her birth, Anju said her husband had a tea stall at Tinerbazar of Halkarchar and the money that her husband earned was enough to maintain their family expenses.

“My husband had long been suffering from a deadly disease cancer and we spent all what we had for his treatment. My husband was the only breadwinner of our family. When he died two years ago, we fell in a deep trouble,” she said.

Anju, a mother of two, said later she got informed that the Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities (SWAPNO) Project would give works for destitute women and she was selected as a beneficiary for the project.

“I got a work in maintenance of earthen road and in the last 12 years, along with other women, I have been working in the SWAPNO project. We get Taka 200 per day each,” she said.

One month after she joined the work, Anju reopened her closed tea stall with the money she earned from the project. “Every day I come to the project’s work, but my nine-year-old son is running the tea stall and he earns Taka 200 to Taka 250 per day, which helps us cope with our plight,” she added.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, flood emerged as a double blow for the char dwellers as most of the houses at Halkarchar village went under flood water this year.

“Our vegetables and other crops we sowed on homestead premises were damaged due to flood. We have plant vegetables again after taking training from the project,” Anju said.

Like Anju Begum, around 1,620 destitute women change their lives in Jamalpur after getting benefits from the SWAPNO project. Besides, the project conducted various activities to prevent coronavirus there.

In the district, COVID-19 awareness messages were disseminated through 900 community mosques and 90 loudspeakers, 8,000 facemasks and handwash soups and 22,500 leaflets and 2,000 posters were disseminated and several hand washing demonstrations were staged under the project.

Essential commodities were distributed among 1,665 beneficiaries to help them address COVID-19 fallout, while each of them got 12 kg rice, 6 kg flour, 2 kg potato, 2 kg dal, 1 kg sugar, 1 kg salt, 1 kg soya bean oil, 1 kg cheera (flattened and fried rice) and 2 soaps.

In addition to this, each of 1620 beneficiaries got Taka 1,500 as cash assistance.

Md Mahmood Hossain, UNDP district manager of Jamalpur, said SWAPNO project engaged the ultra-poor, disadvantaged, destitute and divorced women living in rural level for a 15-month period in maintaining public resources.

“For maintaining public resources, particularly repairing earthen rural roads, a women engaged in the project gets Taka 200 per day as wage. Of the amount, she gets Taka 150 daily while she must deposit Taka 50 daily as compulsory savings,” he said.

After 15 months of their job, Mahmood said, the saving money are distributed among the beneficiaries through electronic payment. The women are being imparted with necessary training on income-generating activities and they are also being provided necessary support to this end, he added.

SWAPNO is a project of the Local Government Division, which engaged ultra-poor women in public works essential for the economic and social life for rural communities.

With support from UNDP, the project promotes employment, and most importantly future employability of extreme poor rural women.

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