When Rick Campanelli appears, people watch, listen and follow.
You may remember Rick as a host on MuchMusic and ET Canada, where he captivated viewers for years. Or you might follow Rick’s travels with World Vision, as a celebrity ambassador. Wherever he appears, Rick’s charisma, humour and kindness leap off the screen.
But on this day, Rick was following the words of another man – a gentle community leader in Bangladesh named Sirajul. He’s something of a revolutionary in his rural Bangladeshi community. And, when Sirajul speaks, men gather around to listen.
In Sirajul’s yard
The young dad is teaching the other men in his community to be more involved husbands and fathers through something called the MenCare group. Today, they all sat cross-legged in Sirajul’s yard, on a patchwork of coloured mats which they’d brought along.
MenCare welcomes men into the home sphere, which for generations, has been the responsibility of wives and mothers.
“It’s about building a good relationship with each member of the family,” explained Sirajul, as Rick listened on. “It helps to break old practice from our ancestors and bring equality between men and women.”
A MenCare group session taking place in Sirajul’s yard. Photo: Paul Bettings
At MenCare, Sirajul teaches men to behave in ways their forefathers and even foremothers would likely never have approved of. Cooking meals and fetching water. Cuddling babies. Even changing diapers. All the men in Sirajul’s circle were ready to watch, listen and follow.
And it was clear that Rick was captivated.
“These guys are getting together and discussing what needs to be done,” he marveled. “They all want to be there as much as they can, for their wives and for their kids. It’s really transformed these communities.”
Transforming all lives
Judging from the happy laughter of wives and children gathered nearby, the MenCare program was something everyone in the family welcomed. As World Vision’s Maereg Tafere explains, the program opens women’s eyes, too.
“In many cultures in Africa or Asia, if a man goes to the kitchen, he’s not considered a man,” says Maereg, whose work with World Vision frequently takes him overseas. “Men are afraid of their wives’ thinking, most of all. Wives don’t want their husbands to be called less than a man by other women.”
Saraju teaches Rick how to cur and prepare a local fish for eating. Photo: Paul Bettings
With MenCare, however, men are involved in a discussion which gives them permission to enter home spaces traditionally reserved for women. The group builds awareness and closeness without creating resentment in the home, says Maereg.
“MenCare involves men in the conversation, so they don’t see themselves as the oppressors,” he explains. “You can work with women alone to teach about their rights, but that can just create resentment and division. If you don’t involve men, you create problems in the home rather than solving them.”
Safe and welcoming
Watching the men in Sirajul’s circle pass a cloth baby doll gently from one to another, there was no hint of stress or embarrassment. Even when a man adjusts the way he holds the child based on Sirajul’s guidance.
Sirajul demonstrating how to change a diaper, swaddle and carry a baby to other men in the village. Photo: Paul Bettings
Perhaps it’s because Sirajul himself exudes a strength and dignity which many of the men clearly pick up on. This revolutionary new reality appears to be a safe, welcoming space.
This MenCare group is one of hundreds that World Vision is supporting around the world. The groups are about much more than simply lending a hand. They’re about nurturing a different future for the children in these families.
“Sirajul is a good model for his kids, that’s for sure. They’re going to grow up learning many amazing things from him.”
“I want to provide higher education for my children,” shares Sirajul, with Rick sitting beside him, “and build them with both social and religious morals so they can be skilled citizens of the country.”
“I’m also very fond of cooking,” he adds.
Rick with Sirajul and his family. Photo: Paul Bettings
Want to join Rick’s visit to Sirajul’s home – and see what Sirajul and his wife made for dinner together? Click here to see the video!