Transforming lives of marginalised communities in coastal areas
'Tiger widows' are women who tragically lost their husbands to tiger attacks at villages near the Sundarbans. In 2018, Asikuzzaman Asik formed the Initiative for Coastal Development (ICD) to rehabilitate tiger widows as well as people of the Munda community from poverty, social stigma, and natural disasters.
When he was a student at Dhaka University, Asik worked for various institutions in Koyra, Khulna. After witnessing the misery of the residents, he considered it a social responsibility to work for their betterment. He used his tuition fees to buy sewing machines for four tiger widows. His efforts garnered significant attention across social media. Gradually, his well-wishers at his university helped him buy seven more sewing machines.
"84 women became self-reliant through our initiative. Munda people had to rent boats before to catch fish, but we bought boats for 30 of them. They can now spend the boat rent money for household work. Besides this, we established a school for the Munda children. We have distributed food and free sanitary napkins to more than five hundred adolescent girls," shared Asik about the success of ICD. "In the beginning, my target was to ensure employment for 130 tiger widows. We gave sewing machines, training for sewing and other necessities to 30 of them. Our goal is to make the five hundred indigenous people in Koyra financially independent," he further added.
By following safety guidelines, ICD managed to arrange emergency relief services for several houses during the pandemic. In addition, they constructed 10 houses for the people who became homeless due to the Amphan cyclone. Since coastal areas have salty water, ICD installed 20 tube wells that supply clean water. They also bear the responsibility of paying for educational expenses of 10 orphans.
"Since tiger widows are highly dependent on the Sundarbans, alternative job opportunities need to be created for them so they can diversify the risks. Men who go to catch fish and collect honey in the areas where tiger attacks happen need to be trained to become more vigilant and defensive," suggests Asik.
Asik also shared words of advice for people who want to work for social welfare. "Be sincere and empathise with people who have experienced profound loss. As we have been fighting for a good cause for three years, we have received CSR funds from LG Electronics twice. Many people and organisations have come forward to help us champion this cause," he says.
The author is a freelance journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.