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Betel leaves with spice

How Shimul Datta was able to set up a successful business in Kishoreganj’s local market despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Setting up a business is very challenging during normal times. Making it successful takes persistence, passion, hard work and a strong will. Now, imagine what it takes to make a successful business during a global pandemic?

Shimul Datta, a 38-years old father of two, was looking for options to rise above the hardships posed by the pandemic when he learned about a cash grant programme run by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS).

To help hundreds of families who were struggling to make ends meet in Batrish, a small community from Kirshoreganj District, which is about 186 km Northwest of the capital Dhaka, BDRCS implemented a cash programme to support vulnerable households.

With the cash he received, Shimul Datta set up a food stand in the local market to sell fresh and delicious betel leaves, a popular native plant from Southeast Asia that is a cousin of the black pepper plant. Every day, he greets more than fifty people, many returning customers that have made his stand a popular spot among the locals. The extra income from the stand has given him a new way to provide for his wife, children and mother.

Shimul starts his day at 6 am every morning.  He gets ready to go to his food stand at the same time as the kids set out for school.  He usually walks the small streets of his hometown to get to the market, which is a ten-minute walk from his house.

Standing in front of the market’s building, Shimul brings food with a smile to all pass-byers. He sets up his display, where the green leaves take centre stage. It has not always been this way though. It was after the cash grant support from BDRCS — in the height of the pandemic — that he was able to turn an idea into a livelihood.

It is no wonder that Shimul’s heart-shaped leaves draw attention. They are fresh, big and the most vivid green. Customers also have their pick of spices that add flavour to this popular dish.

For him, having happy customers is one of the key ingredients for success. “I have a good relationship with my customers and enjoy the work I do”, he says. “I am working hard to provide for my family.”

After a hard-working day at his shop, Shimul Datta gets ready to go back home. He stops by a vegetable stand in the same market to buy food for tonight’s dinner with his family. Carrots, tomatoes and spinach are some of the family favorites to prepare for dinner.

Dinnertime is a family affair. Shimul and his family sit down together to eat a hard-earned meal. Sometimes, Shimul lends a hand to his youngest son so he can finish his plate.  This family time is also a side product from BDRCS financial support, which not only helps keep food on the table but enables Shimul to meet many other basic needs.

Manju Rani Datta, Shimul’s mother, is able to spoil her grandson Srijon Datta with tasty snacks after dinner. Manju is an essential part of the family and the household. In Bangladesh, it is customary that the younger generations tend to their elders and most of them live in the same home as their children and grand-children.

It is important to assess the family condition and progress after receiving cash grant support. So, it is not uncommon for BDRCS volunteers to talk to Shimul Datta and his mother to see how things are progressing.  Part of the cash program is to provide follow-up and ensure that families are prospering, so BDRCS local volunteers make regular visits to the families and households that benefited from the cash grant.

For Shimul Datta, having a successful business is something he is very proud of. He managed to overcome struggles that came due to the Covid-19 pandemic and found a sustainable livelihood that will help him support his children. “I want to educate my children. With my income, I can feed them well and provide for their better future”, he shared.

Outside their home in Batrish, Shimul stands with his family, all feeling proud of the life they have created. Not only has his business allowed them to buy food, but they have also had the opportunity to make improvements to their household.

Today, there are more than 1,000 families in Kishoreganj that, just like Shimul Datta’s family, have received cash grant support from BDRCS during the pandemic. Each family received 4,500 taka to help them mitigate the exacerbating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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This story was produced and drafted by Hossain Mohammad Prodip
– a talented and dynamic storyteller from Bangladesh Red Crescent.

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