This World Health Day, you will be reading a lot of reports about the grave reality. This is about the experience I had when I visited some remote hamlets in Jharkhand. Resource poor and with terrible infrastructure, these villages are tucked away in near the border of Jharkhand and Bihar. And yet, the stories I heard were incredible tales of grit and determination which made me realise that investing in people could actually ensure a safe future. Here are some glimpses from my visit.
The moment you enquire about the Anganwadi in the Pokhardiha, the villagers start talking about Meena. Meena who almost died because her parents didn’t know she could be revived. Meena, who was going to be buried by her family because she was born so frail and weak that they couldn’t feel her pulse. To her family, based out of this hamlet in the remote corners of Jharkhand, the only logical solution was to bury her body until this news reached Lilabai, the Anganwadi worker. Lilabai is said to have rushed to the family, revived the child and brought her back to life.
She taught the new mother how to take care of the little one and kept a routine check to make sure she grows up healthy. From pre-natal to post-natal care to keeping a track of the health condition of every child in the village, Lila doesn’t let the ball drop when it comes to her work. She makes home visits to every household that has a child.
Lila is one of those thousands of Anganwadi workers in our country who get meagre amounts of money as honorarium and are certainly not obliged to work beyond their duty hours or what they are entitled do. But they do.
No different from her is Mirabai Devi, living a little further away in a village called Dhab. She underwent a training conducted by Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan, a project supported by CRY – Child Rights and You, where she came to know that the food that can be afforded with the government allocated budget for meals in the Anganwadis, does not manage to give children the nutrition they deserve.
She mobilised every mother in her village to help her build a kitchen garden behind the Anganwadi Bhavan. This kitchen garden grows nutritious vegetables to add to the diet of the children and supplements their nutrition.
It has also managed to build a group of mothers – a Mata Samiti – who do everything from ensuring that every pregnant woman enrols herself into the Anganwadi, to tending to the kitchen garden, to sending every child to the Anganwadi everyday and stepping in when a worker is unwell.
The toughest journey was probably the one traversed by Pinky Birhor, the Anganwadi worker serving the Birhor community. The Birhors are an extremely closed community. They are a hunting and gathering society who were, till very recently considered “criminal tribes”.
One of her major challenges, working with such a population, was to get the children to the Anganwadi. The concept of cleanliness and hygiene was absent from this community as a whole.
Hence for her, the biggest breakthrough was to convince parents to bathe the children every day and get them to wash their hands before their meals.
She also took vigorous training from the NGO, and now, not only ensures 100% care of the children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the community while delivering all services to the best of her abilities, but also constantly looks to upgrade her skills as a worker.
The question that arises is why would these ladies go the extra mile to ensure that the Anganwadi delivers the services to the best of its ability. The answer to that, is simple.
They know, through untiring efforts made by CRY and supported projects like the Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan, that it is the first six years of a child that create the foundation for a healthy life.
In India, only 50% of pregnant women receive complete antenatal care and 1 million infants die before they can reach their first birthday (Source: Census 2011).
It’s time we looked at strengthening our Anganwadis, because clearly, they can make a difference. A huge one at that!