Nahr-e-SHAHI DISTRICT, Balkh Province, Afghanistan – Bibi Gul, 40, holds her cow’s halter and smiles at the congratulatory clapping from a group of women. With a stooped back, she quietly takes slow, labored steps, leading her new cow to stand by a wall next to several other women waiting for their cows.
“I am very happy because I just received a cow today,” says Bibi Gul. “I want to take good care of her. By selling her milk I can improve my living conditions.” She lives in a house with nine family members in Qezelabad village in Nahr-e-Shahi district in Balkh Province. Her life had taken a downturn when she lost her husband. Due to social stigma, she is unable to work outside the house. The only thought that consumes her is feeding her six small children. “When a woman, particularly a widow, wants to work outside her house, people stigmatize her,” says Bibi Gul. “For this reason, I cannot work outside my house.”
Bibi Gul received the cow through the Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program. Today is a bright day for her, coming after a long, dark time. She calls it the light after the darkness. She hopes to work and put food on the table for her children. “I want to slowly improve my living conditions by taking care of this cow,” says Bibi Gul. “If I get the opportunity, I will also establish a small enterprise.”
The TUP program is part of the Afghanistan Access to Finance Project (AAFP) implemented through the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA). The project aims to build institutional capacity to improve access to credit for micro, small, and medium enterprises. The Access to Finance Project is supported by an amount of US$50 million through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries.
Nationally, the TUP program, which began in 2015, has provided assistance to 6,725 families. It aims at “graduating” participants from safety net programs to income-earning activities, linking them with microfinance programs. Building on the lessons learned from pilot programs and international experience, the TUP program provides beneficiaries a three-year package of inputs, including the transfer of productive assets (such as livestock); training (classroom and practical work); a subsistence support (monthly stipend as short-term income support); and basic healthcare through community-based health workers.