Building Community Through Learning Circles

Monica and her son in their kitchen gardenIn northwest Bangladesh, Monica was inspired to create a kitchen garden when she attended a learning circle in her village. She learned how to cultivate a small area of land and improve the soil using organic fertilizer. The patch of ground behind her house in Khalippur village is now teeming with nine types of vegetables, including pumpkins, chillies and aubergine (eggplant). Her son has planted a mango tree and a rose apple tree. Monica no longer has to buy vegetables for her family. In fact, she now grows so many that she gives them away to relatives and sells some locally. Monica is very pleased with her crop and plans to plant more vegetables on another patch of land nearby.

Learning circles began in 2011 and since then groups of Mahle people from Dinajpur district in northwest Bangladesh have been meeting together to learn about community development concerns. The local community groups find a space and a time to meet once a week for about an hour and a half. SIL Bangladesh provides training for the facilitators and resources to guide the discussions.

In the Mahle community around ninety men and women participate in nine learning circles. The five learning circle books in SIL’s series cover topics such as hygiene, caring for livestock, first-aid, AIDS, diabetes, child safety, women’s rights, leadership skills and saving money. Although the books are published in Bangla (the national language), facilitators lead discussions in the Mahali language.

Several learning circle members have shared stories of change. Thomas, from Jogonnathpur village previously lost two of his children soon after their births. Learning about post-natal care, including providing nutritious food for the mother, helped him to knowledgably care for his wife and child when the next baby was born.

After joining her local learning circle, Jotsna from Sadahomal village was inspired to take a more active role in the care of an elderly family member. She started to provide special food for her elderly relative and help her to wash her clothes and fetch water from the well. Jotsna wants to set a positive example for her children to follow.