We define together with people, what development means for them.
Letter to Friends around the World # 85

Lenen R., is from Bangladesh and works for the grassroots NGO MATI (which means "Soil") which he founded in 1997.

They work in the North of Bangladesh together with people living below the poverty line. MATI works in the fields of women's empowerment, education and livelihood development.

Their central approach is that they define together with people what "development" means for them, and plan and implement projects together. We have a project called the "Millennium Village" where we and the villagers work in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals in an absolutely participatory approach.

We have experienced improvements in many fields such as education,access to safe water, or debt reduction. Bangladesh is hailed as the "mother-country of micro-credit" but we believe what people really need are commitment and relationships, not only money.

I asked a woman in the Millennium Village, "What does poverty mean for you in concrete terms?" She told me "I am not poor, I can work, so I can earn money, I only need a decent job."

This should be understood as a call for a future where each person has an opportunity to use the skills that they have.

In the "Millennium Village", we try to improve living conditions according to the villagers' priorities.

Many children were not going to school, as there was no pre-school in the village, and the school of another NGO had only a few places. In order to be admitted into Class 1 of a Government school, children need a pre-school education to pass the entry exam.

Together the villagers built a small community centre in the middle of the village, one room was for the school, the other for sewing training for the women. Every year 40 children (aged 4-6) go to the pre-school, in two shifts (20 each time).

The teacher is a literate woman from the community. As the school is in the heart of the village, it is only a few metres from the children’s homes. A school day takes 1.5 hours, this is the concentration span of the kids. The mothers can sit in the courtyard and see what is going on in the school.

Often the community have discussions between themselves about what they desire from the school or the teacher.

Lenen R., Bangladesh