Multipurpose community learning centres or gonokendros, a part of continuing education programme, were established in 1995 as community libraries. Within two years of establishment, these centre were registered as trusts and became self-financing in terms of operating expenses. Open to all, they also provide IT and other training in a range of trades (computer, electronics, livestock rearing, horticulture, fish culture, poultry, etc) in collaboration with the Department of Youth Development.
Gonokendros contain books, magazines, daily newspapers, and are usually managed by locally-recruited librarians. The centre provides an intergenerational meeting space and offer a number of services for adults, children and students. It also preserves local historical items, operate mobile libraries for women and the elderly, and houses a children’s corner. It also organises various cultural programmes.
The most remarkable achievement of these gonokendros is that a large number of semi-literate women have become regular readers. Recently, internet services have been introduced in 250 gonokendros in collaboration with Grameenphone.
The major characteristics of gonokendros are as follows:
- Located at the union level in a space given by the community
- Has an average of 400-500 members
- Open for five to six hours per day, six days a week
- Provides reading materials including books, newspapers and magazines Has a separate corner for children Operated by a part-time librarian (usually a woman from the community)
- Hosts educational and sociocultural activities, skill development courses and sports for the youth
- Becomes self-financed within two years by forming a trust
Following are the different activities of gonokendro:
Libraries Libraries are central to gonokendros. Most have a collection of 1,000 books . In addition, the libraries keep daily newspapers and magazines. They remain open for five to six hours a day for six days a week. People become members by paying a nominal amount for a year. On an average 60 people use gonokendros every day.
Reader’s forum To encourage a habit of reading and to increase the number of books issued, a good number of gonokendros have readers’ forum. Participants at such forums are given an extra card to borrow an extra book for a week. They also participate in a fortnightly session where they discuss and share ideas on the books they read in the prior weeks
A forum is usually for two to three months. Participants are evaluated on the basis of these sessions. A forum usually lasts for two to three months. At the end of each forum, participants who do well are rewarded.
Readers’ forum increases the depth of knowledge and encourages the members to read books.
Mobile library An innovative concept of gonokendro is its mobile library, which targets adults, especially women, who are unable to take direct advantage of library services of the gonokendros for a number of reasons (distance, lack of mobility or time, etc). Women and elderly people of the community, qualified but unemployed girls, out-of-school children or people with disabilities are the members of mobile libraries. The mobile library is managed by a librarian or a part-time assistant librarian (usually a woman) who carries about 80-100 books (in a trunk) to the doorsteps of rural households by a rickshaw or a van once or twice a week.
IT in gonokendros To connect remote communities with the world outside, gonokendros are equipped with internet connection, on a pilot basis. People of these communities enjoy better access to information. Students and teachers are entitled to free internet service in these gonokendros, but other users have to pay BDT 10 per hour.
Multimedia presentations Gonokendros arrange multimedia presentations for rural people on various social issues. Arranged in public places, these events draw nearly 80 to 200 people. The advantage of multimedia presentations is that illiterate people can participate in it too.
Television In 2011, televisions were delivered in 500 gonokendros. This service has increased the hours these gonokendros stay open. It attracts a new group of user (mostly people who cannot read or write). For this extra time, the committee members take responsibility to run the centres. Gonokendros have become an information hub for the rural, disadvantaged people, especially girls and women.
Skill development training To improve the socioeconomic conditions of rural communities, gonokendros arrange skill development training for the youth in collaboration with the Directorate of Youth under the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
The training centres of the directorate offer both long and short courses on different trades, for example electrical works and electronics, poultry rearing, livestock, agricultural nurseries, fisheries, tailoring, and modern office management.
The rationale behind engaging the youth in such training is to involve them in income-earning activities and create employment.
Sociocultural activities In rural communities, people lack scope and space to spend leisure time or to socialise; they also do not have access to entertaining events. Gonokendros, thus organise different kinds of sociocultural activities and ensure the participation of community members.
The activities include drawing, essay writing and recitation competitions, preparing wall magazines, publishing annual magazines and calendars, performing skits and drama, celebrating patriotic holidays, international days, organising rallies and discussion sessions, arranging different fairs, exhibitions (book exhibition, IT fair) and eye camps, blood donations and medical camp for general diagnosis. The youth committee of the gonokendros usually assists in arranging these events. Such events also reinforce local cultural heritage and communal identity.
Youth committee To support the trustee board, every gonokendro has a youth committee which is formed with the youth of the community with 30-50 per cent women. They help to mobilise fund for the gonokendro as well as organising different sociocultural activities. This youth committee also collects seasonal crop from the community to increase the fund of a gonokendro. The participation of young girls and women in this process creates awareness among community members regarding the roles of girls and women as integral part of community development.
Children’s corners Children’s corners have 100 to 150 books; children use this space to read, borrow books and play games.
There is an opportunity for children to engage in cultural activities and art competitions. The librarian attends to the children and holds storytelling sessions once a week.
Micro-museum Gonokendros have a separate shelf dedicated to collecting local and historical items for display. This inclusion, called micro-museum, is in the pilot phase and contains mementos of local martyrs who died in the liberation war, old copper utensils which are not used anymore , old currencies and miniatures of different kinds of everyday items such as the dheki, palki and plough. Such museums give visitors an idea of the local heritage.
Kirtiman Some gonokendros now keep digital festoons illustrating life and work of local and famous literary personalities. These festoons are displayed on occasions of their birth and death anniversary, – usually two months before the date. On the date of the anniversary, cultural events, discussion sessions and competitions are held focusing on their work.
BASE BRAC’s activity for social empowerment (BASE) is a recent inclusion in the gonokendros. To encourage more people to read books, 148 centres have been established so far in a spare room provided by the communities as pilot.
Local youth conduct activities which include distribution and recollection of books , awareness raising, and record keeping, etc. Each centre starts with 100 books and are replaced by 100 new books at the end of the month.
Local resource person (LRP) Participation and ownership feeling of community people is necessary for gonokendros to sustain. . From 2011, gonokendros started to recruit LRP from the community - people with interest and commitment to bring local development. They are trained to deliver particular services and conduct some activities in their communities. LRPs are responsible for arranging orientations for the committee members, organising cultural programmes and competitions for children on various occasions, establishing new gonokendro, mobilising fund for the gonokendro, increasing number of readers and members, increasing community participation in MCLC activities, etc. Being local, the LRPs can better understand the community’s characteristics and deliver the services accordingly. They are not BRAC’s permanent staff; they are working with BRAC as part-time staff.
2,910 libraries (gonokendros)
1.27 million members of gonokenros
61,143 members of 880 mobile libraries
1,365 gonokendros with IT facilities
103,140youth members receiving training, of whom 57.95 per cent are girls
356 sub-districts in 60 districts have been reached