Moriam Banu was a beggar and used to live in a shanty on someone else's land after losing her home to the river Meghna. She never thought she would have a normal life again.
But thanks to the prime minister's Ashrayan Project launched in 2010, she now has a place to call home and the determination to make something of herself. With a roof over her head, the 55-year-old in Bangladesh's south eastern Lakshmipur now earns up to Tk14,000 living out of handicraft.
The story only gets better – the elderly woman is also putting aside Tk1,000-Tk1,500 every month to open a clothes shop for her two daughters and has already arranged sewing training for them.
The government's shelter scheme proved to be a life changer for hundreds of families like Moriam's as the incomes of families benefiting from the project have increased by a whopping 108% in the past six years till 2022, according to government evaluation.
It notes that families who have already received a house at the project have seen their savings increase by 50% over these six years, while those who are still waiting to get a house have seen their savings increase by only 6%.
The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) on 17 January gave a presentation on the evaluation report on Ashrayan Project-2 at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).
IMED Secretary Abul Kashem Md Mohiuddin presented the report in the presence of the prime minister.
Families who have got houses under the project no longer have to pay for accommodation. Instead, they have been able to earn by cultivating vegetables, keeping poultry and livestock in their yards, resulting in better capacity of savings.
The IMED mentions lives of the families have changed drastically, with better access to education, health services, food security, and availability of electricity and clean water.
According to the report, more than 25 lakh people have been lifted above the poverty line as direct beneficiaries of the Ashrayan scheme, which is "very rare and exemplary".
"A house is the most important tool for social and economic development and poverty eradication," the IMED says after surveying 600 families who got houses under the shelter scheme at 18 upazilas and 300 poor people who did not get houses.
In 2010, the Asryan Project began as the total spending till November last year was around Tk5,518 crore. The scheme seeks to provide housing to beggars, widows, deserted women, bedes, low-caste people, hijras and climate refugees.
A tool to fulfil basic needs
The IMED survey shows that the Ashrayan Project is providing electricity and clean water to 98% and 93 of the households, respectively.
But the rates are around 56% and 71% among families who are now waiting for government houses.
The survey also shows that more than 94% of Ashrayan Project beneficiaries are now getting sanitation facilities, while 62% are using the internet – compared to 25% of the poor population outside the shelter scheme.
Furthermore, the survey revealed that 40% of Ashrayan households have access to televisions, 80% beneficiaries are using mobile phones, and 10% households are using refrigerators.
Upped social status
Sahida Begum got an Ashrayan house in Khulna's Batiaghata. Before that, she had been living on someone else's land for nearly 20 years, and had to pay the landowner.
"I cannot express how happy and grateful I am for having our own house. We no longer have to pay anyone for accommodation," she told The Business Standard.
Azharul Ali, another beneficiary of the project, said, "I had been living in a kancha house covered with golpata since birth. Now, I live in a pucca house, something that I never thought would be possible in my lifetime."
Fahima Begum, an Ashrayan beneficiary in Pirojpur's Mathbaria, said she used to struggle to manage three meals a day before receiving the house. In a sharp contrast to that, Fahima currently has some furniture in her house and also owns cattle and poultry.
With progressing income and savings, she feels she now enjoys better social status.
The housing project prompted countless such success stories, as the survey shows women have become empowered with ownership over land and houses. This has caused a noticeable change to women's decision-making for key family matters such as child education, health-related services and spending.
To further promote the project, Ashrayan has provided various training initiatives for the families.
According to the survey, 16.83% of beneficiaries who have undergone training in handicrafts, tailoring, poultry, agriculture, fisheries and animal husbandry have already utilised the knowledge they gained, while only 2% of those who have not yet been part of the project have done so.
Better access to education
The IMED survey shows that school enrolment among the beneficiary families has increased by 68.5% in the last six years. The rate is 58% among the families waiting for the houses.
Moreover, child dropout among the beneficiary families has also decreased substantially. The success has been attributed to the income by Ashrayan families by growing vegetables and rearing cattle, which is spent on the education of their children.
Hajera Begum, a widow who got an Ashrayan house in Bogura, works as a readymade garment worker in Dhaka. Her son Ismail Hossain lives in the house while Hajera is in the capital. They used to live in a rented home prior to getting the house.
Ismail said he is able to continue his study as her mother does not have to pay for the accommodation.
The IMED highlighted that housing is the basic need of every citizen as it paves the way for other basic needs to be fulfilled.
IMED Secretary Abul Kashem Md Mohiuddin said that Ashrayan Project has been instrumental in providing shelter and social safety to the landless and destitute people of Bangladesh, and is making a significant contribution towards poverty elimination.
"The houses as a gift by the prime minister have provided them with a newfound sense of optimism and hope," he told The Business Standard.