Nurjahan Begum gave up begging and started a fast food business seven years ago with a grant she received from the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation.
Her business gradually prospered. Now she has assets worth Tk4-5 lakh. She has built a brick house and sent her son to Dubai.
There are hundreds of examples like Nurjahan across the country of people who have given up begging and are now involved in various businesses. They have been earning around Tk5,000-8,000 per month.
Since 2010, The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) gave 1,322 beggars Tk1 lakh each on the condition that they would never beg for alms again.
The agency arranged to set up dairy, poultry or other businesses with this money, according to the grant recipient's choice, to make the recipients self-reliant. They are now called "enterprising members" for leaving a life of dependency.
Nurjahan's struggle started in 1986 when her husband died in a road accident. She worked in different homes to feed her child, but became physically weak due to a lack of proper treatment. Then she was forced to beg because no one gave her a job.
In 2013, Nurjahan, a resident of Rajnagar upazila of Moulvibazar, received Tk1 lakh through PKSF affiliate organisation HEED Bangladesh, on the condition of giving up begging. Nurjahan set up a fast food shop in
Petugaon village in Rajnagar upazila with that money and operated it with her son.
She gradually saved extra money after meeting her family's expenses. Two years later, she left the fast food business and started farming with her son by taking a lease of land, which increased her income. She replaced her dilapidated home with a brick house. Three years later she also sent her son to Dubai.
Nurjahan Begum said, "Now no one calls my child the son of a beggar. He now sends Tk15,000-17,000 [home] every month."
Nurjahan is now living with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter in her own house.
"I am just happy now. People respect me. Many people came to see me," said the successful entrepreneur.
Average income of enterprising members
In 2018, the PKSF analysed the data of 1,032 of these grant receivers – 564 women and 468 men. The average income of 98 of them was not less than Tk8,000. The average income of 890 people was within the range of Tk5,000-8,000. The average income of the rest of the enterprising members has not been calculated yet.
According to the PKSF: 121 of the grant recipients had assets worth less than Tk1 lakh, 564 had assets worth between Tk1 and 1.5 lakh, 185 had assets worth from Tk1.51 lakh to Tk2 lakh, and 162 people had assets worth more than Tk2 lakh.
As of June 2018, a total of 93 of the rehabilitated beggars had died. The PKSF said none of them returned to begging while they were alive.
PKSF chairman Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad told The Business Standard, "We focus on those who are lagging behind. The beggars who have been rehabilitated under the Samriddhi Programme, we call them enterprising members."
Kholiquzzaman said the PKSF is not undertaking any new program for beggars as the government has undertaken various programs for them.
He said, "Each of 1,322 enterprising members received Tk1 lakh. Later, 22 of them returned the money and went back to begging. They said, 'I cannot do it. One can make more money by begging.'"
PKSF Deputy Managing Director (Administration) Jashim Uddin said, "We have shown that a person can be made self-sufficient with Tk1 lakh. We have proved that in 64 districts. Those who left begging and started working are now gaining status in their society."
The government established the PKSF in 1990 and the Samriddhi Programme started in 2010. Under the programme, the PKSF has undertaken various initiatives including the rehabilitation of enterprising members.