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Extreme poverty has many faces and varies in different contexts. The “official” definition of extreme poverty is stated in terms of income – living on less than $1.90 per day. But extreme poverty is about more than a lack of income.
People living in extreme poverty also lack access to food, education, and the resources and skills needed to develop a sustainable livelihood like financial services and access to available social services. Children born in these families get trapped in this cycle, with limited access to proper nutrition, sanitation, and education. Girls face even greater challenges such as child marriage and its subsequent health implications.
BRAC’s evidence-based, multifaceted Graduation approach provides a pathway out of extreme poverty that benefits participants’ entire households, including their children, by addressing their multidimensional needs. It connects families to essential social protection programmes and enables them to improve their economic situation, keeping their children fed and in school with access to healthcare. And research suggests that it can achieve long-lasting results for participating households years after the programme ends and that it is adaptable for different geographics and local contexts.
Below are key needs BRAC’s Graduation approach is proven to address for children in participating households.
People living in extreme poverty often lack the access, information, and income to maintain nutritious diets. They live hand to mouth, which subsequently impacts the wellbeing of the family members, especially the younger generation who tend to experience malnutrition and higher disease rates. Right now, over 900 million people worldwide are facing severe food insecurity, which has worsened during the pandemic.
Graduation promotes food security by involving participants with income generating activities to meet their basic needs, connecting them to existing government programmes, offering training on health and nutrition, and diversifying income streams to build economic resilience. A 2016 study in Bangladesh found that Graduation positively impacts nutritional status of household members, most notably in children, due to an increase in the duration of exclusive breastfeeding, increased administration of Vitamin A, and increased ability to eat two meals per day. Policies and programmes based on the Graduation approach provide a safety net for participants and their families, improving their food security and their economic prospects.
Additionally, in Bangladesh, Graduation participants’ children under five years of age were 30 percent less likely to be underweight and 11 percent less likely to have low weight-for-height, found by a World Bank research. Graduation interventions also benefit children under five from non-participating households in the community, making them 12 percent less likely to be underweight and 9 percent less likely to have low weight-for-height. Research suggests this could be due to participants passing lessons learned from coaching to others in their communities, showing the mutual benefits of social inclusion.
Another study on Fonkoze Graduation pilot in Haiti in partnership with BRAC shows decreased severe child undernutrition from 13 percent to 4 percent at the end of the programme.
Another basic need that often goes unmet for people in extreme poverty is access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) – particularly in urban contexts. Households in extreme poverty are often unable to access or afford proper WASH infrastructure, and lack information on healthy WASH practices. This especially impacts children’s health as open defecation, dirty hands and unsafe water make them more prone to diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, etc. Girls also particularly face difficulties during their periods in the absence of proper sanitation facilities and cleaning products at home.
The Graduation approach addresses these WASH challenges by improving access to sanitary latrines and safe drinking water, and providing information on WASH. While conducting the home visits, the frontline staff ensures that the households maintain hygiene properly and their children follow the basic rules of health and hygiene. In the earlier stage of BRAC’s Graduation programme in Bangladesh, the programme taught participants and their household members to put on sandals, use water pots and wash their hands properly with soap. They also instructed participants in food safety practices such as cooking with clean water and keeping food covered.
Research on the impact of the Graduation approach in the host community in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh shows that participants reduced open defecation practices by 198% and were more likely to own tin-shade roofs, separate kitchens, ring/sanitary latrines, and tube-wells compared to their non-participant counterparts after ‘graduation’.
Parents experiencing extreme poverty are often unable to afford an education for their children, instead engaging the children in household chores or supporting the family with some extra income. As COVID-19 pushes an additional 47 more million women and girls into extreme poverty and drives a surge in child labour, it is urgent that development actors back interventions which enable parents to invest in their children’s future.
The Graduation approach coaches participants about the importance of education and encourages them to invest in their children’s development, including girls. Throughout the Graduation programme, children attending regular schooling is assessed as a core Graduation criterion. The programme staff regularly monitors progress through home visits and if they identify any children facing difficulties with their education, they immediately try to solve it. If resource mobilisation is required, the Village Social Solidarity Committee (VSSC) is involved and they arrange free tuition, school stationeries, books, uniforms, etc. Referring to the free of cost nature of tutorial classes a VSSC chair commented, “The parents of ultra-poor children are now free from tension because they do not need to spend money for additional tutoring of their children.”
Evidence shows that these interventions are effective, as participants’ children are more likely to receive an education. A CGAP-Ford Foundation impact assessment of Graduation pilot programmes in Haiti suggests the proportion of children regularly attending school rose from 27 to 70 percent at the end of the Graduation intervention. Through a Trickle Up Graduation pilot in partnership with BRAC, the proportion of participants’ school-aged children enrolled in school grew from 5 percent to 83 percent.
In many contexts, daughters of parents living in extreme poverty are often treated as a burden, unable to contribute to family earnings after marriage. People living in extreme poverty are often unaware of legal and health implications of child marriage. As a result, girls are frequently forced to leave school for child labor or child marriage.
The Graduation approach combats various issues like these that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and inhibit girls from realising their potential during home and group visits and aware them on important social and health issues. The staff counsel the participants about the demerits of child marriage and dowry and ensure they do not engage in such acts through regular monitoring during the two years of the programme cycle. Even if the family wants to get their child married off, the UPG staff and Village Social Solidarity Committee (VSSC) members work together to stop the marriage and make the family understand about the negative consequences. This active awareness creation process during the two years of the programme cycle results in general community awareness and consensus to prohibit child marriages, which eventually they get in the habit of practising afterwards.
In this way, by achieving holistic growth, people living in extreme poverty and their children can end cycles of poverty and come out of it sustainably. Improved nutrition, education, awareness and capacity enable them to unleash their potential and build a sustainable future for themselves and for their next generation.
Ahona Azad Choyti is a Communications Specialist at BRAC Communications; Tania Tasnin is a Manager, Knowledge Management and Communication, at BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation programme; and Courtney Calardo is a Senior Manager, Communications, at BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative.
The Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) programme is recognised worldwide as the pioneer of the Graduation approach and acclaimed for its innovative and holistic solution to ultra-poverty. BRAC’s Graduation approach is a comprehensive, time-bound, integrated and sequenced set of interventions that aims to enable households living in ultra-poverty to achieve key milestones towards sustainable livelihoods and socioeconomic resilience, in order to progress along a pathway out of extreme poverty. Since it began in 2002, the programme has served over 2.1 million ultra-poor households in Bangladesh as of December, 2020.
Cover photo: © BRAC