Community learning: building trust to discuss issues that deeply matter

By Arti Manchanda Grover

Learning from the community is key to Sehgal Foundation’s mission for strengthening community-led development. Our journey with participatory learning at community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 started in 2013, when a Bangalore-based organization, Maraa, introduced the radio team to the Community Learning Program supported by Commonwealth of Learning, Canada. Orientation to the Community Learning Program prepared the team to see the benefits of the approach and implement it within communities reached by the station located in Ghaghas, Mewat district, Haryana. The learning curve began as the team met with focus groups in Mewat and learned about their issues, aspirations, and discussed possible solutions. The Alfaz-e-Mewat team and community members sat and spoke informally together and bonded during the discussions.

The frank sharing of incidents from villagers’ daily lives included pleasant and unpleasant stories. Some of these incidents were being shared for the first time. What led to the sharing of so many emotional accounts? The answer was that the radio team had earned the trust of the community members.

In one of the radio team’s visits to the villages, a reporter met Phoolan (name changed) who lives in the harijan mohalla (scheduled caste neighborhood). Phoolan described hardships she has faced at every step in her life. When Phoolan was very young, her brother sold her into marriage to a middle-aged man. She left her husband after a few years, re-married, and had children. Regardless of past hardships, Phoolan remains determined to face life’s challenges. She remarked, “That was just one phase; we fight battles every day.” She spoke candidly about the difficulties and dangers women face while defecating in the open. She described how poor sanitation affects health, personal security and human dignity.

With the help of the community, the radio team produced a program series to address these issues and dispel the many local myths associated with sanitation. The intent was to bring different groups of stakeholders together to initiate a dialogue on the taboo topic. Radio became a valuable platform for sharing stories about villagers’ daily ordeals and bringing about change in the community. Slowly the community came forward to construct toilets and make use of existing toilets.

The first participatory series of ten episodes, “Shochalay Mere Angana” (Toilet in My House), was the learning ground that paved the way for the radio team to work on a second and more focussed series of twelve episodes on sanitation. In the second series, women revealed difficulties they faced in terms of menstrual hygiene and sexual health.

Truly participatory radio programming has provided a forum for women to talk about the hardships they face due to a lack of toilets. The community engagement stimulated through this participatory approach to an important problem has the potential to bring about positive behavior change.