Sonua block is one of the remotest areas of Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district. The block has 125 Anganwadi Centres (AWCs), but due to lack of awareness and geographic remoteness, these AWCs lacked the essential infrastructure to provide appropriate services. This district has also been identified as one of the Aspirational Districts by NITI Aayog.
With the support of a local NGO, Bal Raksha Bharat (also known as Save the Children) started work in Sonua block since 2020 to improve the health and nutritional situation of under-five children, to support Government’s Mission on Poshan 2.0. The work started with capacity building of the existing mothers’ committees for the welfare of the village and the Anganwadi Centers (AWCs). Altogether 121 such committees were formed across 121 villages to monitor the activities at the AWCs and generate awareness regarding various government services. These groups were developed to build ownership among mothers and ensure appropriate services reach the children. These groups, named as the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Groups, were formed with the vision to:
1. Upgrade infrastructures of the AWCs
2. Involvement of community and building ownership
3. Strengthening of supportive supervision
During one such meeting, the mothers’ group pointed out the dilapidated condition of the Rupakosh Anganwadi Centre and said it needed immediate renovation. This is where toddlers come for their early education classes and nutritional support. Pregnant and lactating mothers also drop in for routine check-ups and nutritional counselling, especially on Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Day (VHSND).
Rupakosh Anganwadi Centre almost resembled the haunted houses often shown in movies. Children and adults avoided going to the centre, fearing accidents. The group members agreed to collect money from each other to start the renovation work, depending on their capabilities.
Around 15 group members, with support from Purnima Purty, the nutrition counsellor of Bal Raksha Bharat and the Anganwadi Worker of that centre, went door to door seeking donation. Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed as more villagers joined their endeavours. Some donated Rs 10, while others donated Rs 100, but everyone felt included. The group managed to raise Rs 2,900 in total – Rs 1,900 from the village, Rs 500 from the Anganwadi centre, the Anganwadi Sahayika (helper) donated Rs 200, and the local youth group contributed Rs 300.
The money raised was, however, not enough to hire a mason. But that was not a deterrent. The group decided to carry out the renovation themselves. They procured the material from the village and started the work. They repaired the floor and broken walls of the building and coated the walls with lime wash. They planted seeds to grow vegetables to add them to the children’s diet. They even repaired the roads leading to the AWC.
The centre has become an example of community ownership of a public space for children. It became a story of change led by a resourceful mothers’ group. “It looks like a revolution where the mothers took ownership to provide a safe and nurturing space to their children,” said the Anganwadi worker of Rupakosh.
“I feel proud that I got this opportunity to work with this community through Bal Raksha Bharat. I am also thankful to the residents of the village who came together to fulfil this dream,” said Purnima Purty, nutrition counsellor.
Bal Raksha Bharat is committed to improving the nutritional outcome of children and women in collaboration with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) systems and by creating an enabling environment that results in evidence-based, sustainable, multi-sectorial nutrition actions delivered at scale. The project also aims to improve access and quality of nutrition services by ensuring social behaviour change and communication.
The Government of India’s the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme is one of the world’s largest and unique programmes for Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD). The objectives of the scheme include to improve the nutritional and health status of children in 0-6 age group, to lay the foundation for psycho-social and physical development of children, to reduce the incidence of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school dropout and to boost capacity building among mothers and caregivers. Bal Raksha Bharat, has signed a Statement of Intent (SoI), with NITI Aayog to work in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development in the said district to improve the indicators on ECCD.