Project KHUSHI – Strengthening Aanganwadi

BACKGROUND

Over the years, I have lived in 9 Indian States and have travelled to several others, experiencing a rich cultural diversity and mindsets. Although the exposure helped me understand differences, it made me discover a shared problem – The lack of equal quality education. This problem is prevalent across the nation, irrespective of caste, culture or creed, and is the root of social affliction. It is a problem that has kept me up for nights.
Although I could not pursue this adventure full time, I sought alternate means to contribute. In 2017, I joined the MBA program at SPJIMR, Mumbai that promised a 2 weeks internship with one of the grass-root NGOs, strengthening Aanganwadi operations in Rajasthan – Jatan Sansthan. And there I was, ready to learn new skills and implement them in the hopes of realising a better tomorrow for the youth in the country.

ABOUT Jatan Sansthan

Founded by Dr. Kailash Brijwasi, Jatan Sansthan is an Indian NGO based in the state of Rajasthan. It is a grass root not-for-profit organisation which works with the rural population of Rajasthan. While districts are among the most backward ones in Rajasthan, Jatan NGO has managed to expand its reach to more than 250 villages across various blocks.
Since its inception in 2001, Jatan has laid special emphasis on the following areas of work –
  • Health of women and adolescent girls
  • Adolescence and Youth Development
  • Nurturing Childhood
  • Social accountability and rights advocacy for maternal health
The organisation initiated its work in small number of villages by forming youth groups. These groups, today, have become agents of change within their communities.

Project KHUSHI

To my surprise, I was assigned to Project KHUSHI which touched upon all areas of work by the NGO but primarily focused on Nurturing Childhood. On June 5, 2017 – I travelled to Udaipur where Mr. Raajdeep Singh, Program Manager received me. After a short briefing, I travelled to Khamnor – a small town, 8 km further from Haldighati, where I found a place to stay. Over the next couple of weeks, I planned to travel across remote villages that were deprived of the necessities we claim fundamental.

METHODOLOGY

The study involved the assessment of the services provided by existing Aananwadi, given the resources and infrastructure constraints at the Aanganwadi Centers (AWCs).

Thanks to Prof. Suranjan Das for teaching us Design Thinking, I learned a great deal of concepts that I could apply in real life. I applied the AEIOU approach to identifying issues and devising solution. In addition, I used tools such as Indirect Observation, Traditional Survey, Focus Group Interview, Home Visit Counselling and MIS implementation to further aid in reaching the goal.

Raajdeep assigned a couple of Cluster Coordinators to assist me with my travel to such remote areas and also act as my translator. They also helped me in understanding several pain points in a very short span of time.

Every alternate day, for 2 weeks, I visited a total of seven AWCs. Block Coordinator, Mr. Kishan chose AWCs that belonged to remote locations of Rajsamand district, giving me flavor of all possible conditions. The functioning of Aanganwadi Workers were assessed through face to face interviews. With regards to participatory approach, I conducted focus group interviews with parents to understand the perception and knowledge of the parents who do not send their children to AWCs. This information helped me to fill gaps that I explored during the analysis of secondary data shared by the NGO.

ANALYSIS

After completing a SWOT Analysis, I was able to explore the following –

Strength

  • Successfully backed by government since 1975
  • Dedicated ICDS department
  • Multiple schemes to disburse funds appropriately
  • Corporate Support (Hindustan Zinc Ltd.)
  • Active support from NGOs such as Jatan Sansthan
  • Filtered organisational structure
  • Structured policies and schemes with implementation plan

Weakness

  • Inefficient monitoring of Aanganwadi
  • Inefficiencies at department and panchayat level
  • Lack of motivation in Aanganwadi workers
  • Insufficient local community support
  • Lack of awareness regarding government schemes

Opportunities

  • Community level development to drive Aanganwadi programs
  • Intergration of Khushi project with Childline 1098 to enhance Anganwadi monitoring

Threats

  • Local superstitions
  • Corruption
  • Insufficient distribution of resources

OBSERVATION

The villages were practically unreachable on several aspects. Here’s a summary of my observation –

No electricity –

And I don’t mean infrequent electricity – Electric poles had not yet made it to these areas. That’s right! There are no light bubs, let alone televisions and radios. Most households do have smartphones which they would charge at far off places. It was surprising to see that WhatsApp penetration was higher than electricity. Perhaps, something the government should spend time to ponder.

Lack of water –

Women would travel miles to collect water from unhygienic resources.

Most resources were either dry or rusty, contaminated with bacteria. The picture is that of a traditional well with rusty buckets and inconsumable water. Because such sources were very far, women could not leave their children at home or aanganwadi to fetch water. Thus, they would bring them along, depriving them of the food and education at the Aanganwadi center.

Poor healthcare –

A community, that is hardwired to not question life threatening practices in the name of religious, is bound to suffer its fate.

The locals did not permit hospitals, both private and government, to establish their presence in proximity. Even during pregnancy, the women in the community would drink alcohol. This lead to rising number of children suffering from malnutrition at a tender age of 0-3 years. Myths and superstitions added to the problem that lead to increased mortality rates of both children and adults, especially women. I visited a family in which a women died in labor because the “Bhopa” (local religious figure/pandit) disagreed that she seek medical help. According to him, medical science is satanic and that one must stay away from it.

Black Magic

Limited freedom –

The choices were restricted myths,  superstitions and black magic.

The cluster coordinator mentioned that these (picture) were remains of a black magic practice that was executed to romantically attract someone. He warned me not to touch these remains under any circumstances as it may negatively affect me as well. While I do believe in supernatural to some extent, such practices are beyond my reasonable understanding.

Such remains were usually dumped in the hills and constituted a large portion of land that was left as waste and uninhabited.

 

Lack of education and awareness –

Most people perceived education as useless and sinful. This, however, was changing but the pace was quite slow.

The governments has setup Aanganwadi Centers to promote child education and youth development but several of these centers were non-operational or ineffective. The primary reason were either parents who did not trust the system or the Anganwadi Workers (Asha, Worker and Sahayika) did not have their hearts in the right place.

Needless to say, this was a different world. A very different civilisation where neither one’s riches nor one’s intellect could be a strong influence amongst the locals.

RECOMMENDATIONS

AWC Level

AWC Monitoring:

Motivating community and parents to monitor operations of AWC could be a great step forward. To reap additional benefits, AWC could be integrated with Childline 1098 helpline program that would bring down costs and streamline processes.

Improve Low Attendance of Children:

All day crèche facility for children in collaboration with the elderly who stay at home could prove useful. This could become an incentive for the women who travel to far off places for water or work.

Education Quality:

Currently, the teachers assume all children to be alike. Something that is false. All children have unique abilities and latent talent that seeks nourishment. Creating individual child development and tracking models could improve quality of education.

Society Level

Ensure food supplements reach the needy:

One could execute awareness campaigns to sensitise villagers about their rights. Most community members are unaware about the government benefits such as free medical support and food supplements, etc.

Strategic Home Visits:

Because head of the family takes most of the decisions, the cluster coordinators often deliver advice that falls on deaf ears. Timing home visits when the head of the family is present may accelerate the process of children that they send to the AWCs.

Take “Bhopa” in confidence:

Acknowledging the fact that superstitions cannot be dealt with overnight, attempting to make the common man to reason may not be a great idea. Instead, one could target religious leaders and take them into confidence, cascading the effect to the community.

TAKEAWAYS

It is important to understand that interaction with rural people requires a very special skill set. It demands that one be patient and mature. More importantly, one must accept that tackling people bound by superstitions is a tricky task. Persuading such people by reason or science may not be possible and that one must seek alternative positions to counter the issue.

By the end of two weeks, I gained a better understanding of structures and operations of political systems such as that of Aanganwadi. It is worth noting that an ideal solution may not always be the best solution. A practical solution would make more sense when dealing with a corrupt systems. The process must being from oneself such that one lower the guard to resistance and accepts change in one’s lives.

 

Check out more photos from my DoCC Album.
Follow me on Instagram : @swanidhi

Latest posts by Swanidhi Singh (see all)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin