Rising beyond climate change: The story of Suchitra

From Displacement to Resilience: How One Woman Built a Thriving Life Against All Odds

June 5, 2024

The dark magenta of Bougainvillea in stark contrast with the blue sky, stands out at the entrance of the house. Inside the boundary, you can find a pond, a vegetable garden, and a poultry farm. This is the home of Suchitra Dhali, a resident of Pankhali village in Khulna. While this might paint a picturesque in your mind, things were not as composed as it seems today.

Suchitra Dhali stands proudly in front of her home, symbolizing resilience and hope amidst the challenges of climate change in Pankhali village, Khulna.

©UNDP Bangladesh

Pankhali is a climate prone coastal village of southern Bangladesh. Suchitra, now a woman of approximately 40 years old, has been living here all her life. As far as her memory goes, she remembers running from one shelter house to another based on the emergency signals. She was displaced from her home several times. But the worst one happened in 2016. 

“We used to live by the embankment of Bhodra river (a river flowing across the Khulna district and prone to erosion). It was a small house with two rooms in a congested neighbourhood. And one day the river splashed it away with a tidal surge. We ended up living in a shelter house for months. During my stay there, I could not stop thinking of a house where my children can grow up in comfort and without fear” she said. 

From losing her house to river erosion to building a space of their own from scratch, Suchitra has come a long way. Repeated displacement, fighting with the weather, financial insecurity has grave impact on her. However, the way she survived is a story of resilience which she shared with us.

©Ab Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

She started with reminiscing the days of shelter house when her husband toiled long hours as a day labourer. “It did not matter how hard we worked, making both end remained challenging. We had to borrow money from others” she said. 

Then she was identified as a climate-vulnerable individual by the Local Government Initiative on Climate Change (LoGIC). It is a joint initiative of Bangladesh Government (GoB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), funded by the European Union, the Government of Sweden and Denmark. This project aims to empower climate vulnerable population through appropriate trainings. 

From this project, Suchitra received training on agriculture and sheep farming. During this period, she learned how to grow crops like rice, watermelon, and seasonal vegetables and how to care for cattle. The project encouraged every participant to start their own venture and provided them with a primary grant to start their own business.

She with full enthusiasm utilised her freshly learned lessons. She bought seeds from market and cultivated seasonal vegetables which earned her respectable profit. While many of her peers took this as a one-time venture, she decided to carry on. She saved her profit margin for further investment. And her business continued to grow. 

After a while, observing the demands of a harsh environment, she decided to purchase oral saline, electrolytes, sanitary napkins on limited scale. She found out that these products, specially sanitary napkin has demand in her locality and women of household were comfortable buying this product from her.

©Ab Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

So along with her vegetable and poultry farming persisted with her new venture. She carried her products in a bag and went from door to door to sell them. Sometimes her husband and children accompanied her in assembling and delivering goods. 

Soon, she became a household name in her locality. 

Within 3 years she was able to save up money to build a home for themselves. And she finally moved into her new house with her daughters and husband in 2023. 

Now, she always wears a smile of contentment on her face. “I can grow vegetables on my front yards and take care of my cattles. What else could I ask from life?” she said.

Currently she has 120 chickens in her poultry. She sells her homegrown vegetables at the nearby marketplace. She stated that in the future, she would like to have fish in the pond.

©Ab Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

“When I started working, I did not know if I would be successful or not. But I was determined to change my condition. I never knew I could work so hard and enjoy it. I would like to keep expanding my business. And I want both my daughters to pursue higher education.” she said. 

Nevertheless, the memory of displacement haunts her till this day. Heavy winds scare her. Since she lives in the coast, it never feels safe. “I am afraid of cyclone and floods as they disrupt everyone’s life in the coast” she said. 

©Ab Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

Suchitra does not know what climate change, or its impacts are. But the recurring cyclones, unbearable heat, and unpredictable weather can impact the territory she built from scratch. Despite that, she chooses to rise and have her hopes high for the future. People of her community looks after her and sometimes they come to her for advice. 

“It would be difficult for me to run my business if my community people were not welcoming about it. We draw inspiration from each other” said Suchitra. 

Suchitra Dhali's story is a testament to resilience and the power of community support in overcoming the harsh realities of climate change.