Pushti Apa is responsible for the smiles of many girls and women, young and old, in the slum areas she operates in under the (LIUPC) project. The word Pushti means Nutrition and Apa means older sister in Bengali.
A superhero, without a cape or a wand
September 30, 2022
Kajol, a resident of Korail slum in Dhaka, and her husband had got married young and everything was rosy at first. But an early pregnancy changed her life to such extent that she could no longer even relate to her life before.
"When my in-laws learnt I was pregnant, they would no longer put us up and asked us to leave the shared home because my husband was not earning at that time,” Kajol said recalling the hard days.
"We were immediately thrust into a life of immense financial strain as we waited on our first child. We were desperate to find work and earning sources so that we could afford a home to live in and sustain the pregnancy.”
She continued that they faced financial crisis one after another in the form of lost jobs and failed businesses.
“There were complications in the pregnancy too which did not help either. I felt like the walls were closing in and was terrified at the thought of not being able to give a good life to her baby," she said reminiscing of the time when she struggled to even find money for the caesarean that was required.
But lady luck strikes in the oddest of places and Kajol happened to come across a bunch of other pregnant women in the area around the same time. And that is where she learnt of the ‘Pushti Program’ under the Livelihood Improvements of Urban Poor Communities Project (LIUPCP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Shahjida Begum, the head of the Pushti Program, is known as Pushti Apa and is responsible for the smiles of many girls and women, young and old, in the slum areas she operates in under the project. The word Pushti means Nutrition and Apa means older sister in Bengali.
"This role is wonderful," said Pushti Apa, "Not only had it stabilised me financially by giving me a steady income, but it also enabled me to relish in the goodwill of helping vulnerable mothers in face of unawareness and economic adversity."
Shajida truly came to be Kajol’s guardian angel, as she guided her through the troubled pregnancy with plenty of maternal advice and nutritional consultation to spare. She also performed regular checkups on Kajol, provided her with calendars, weight charts and other necessary medical advice in the days leading up to the birth of her child.
"The mental support that she provided by visiting me regularly and checking up on my needs was no less important than the food and financial support provided under the program," explained Kajol.
The postpartum support that she received from the Pushti program has been near transformational, as she receives Taka 900 as allowance for her baby’s food along with 30 eggs, rice, and lentil for herself every month.
For a family that struggled to manage Taka 7,000-8,000 to meet the bare minimum needs of the family, the newborn baby and new mother’s nutritional needs seemed to be a monumental burden which was taken care of by the program.
Kajol, now the mother of a healthy 8-month-old girl, revels as she tells the story of a superhero that came in her life. “Not all superheroes come with capes or magic wands. Sometimes they come in the form of a kind, enthusiastic mother figure in an urban slum community.”
“She comes with a big smile, stands as a supportive force with healthy food items, and talks about the best ways to take care of a vulnerable woman's health,” said Kajol adding that the continual support from Pushti Apa hasn’t ceased either.
“In fact, she has cemented the necessity of looking after my own nutrition, insisting it will directly contribute to the baby’s development in the early years,” she added.
"I came to this place with a complicated pregnancy and marriage, and almost nothing to support us," Kajol said, "but Pushti Apa's support and presence really helped me push through the tough times."
The Pushti Program has been a remarkable story of success on part of the LIUPCP supported by the UK Government in Bangladesh.
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