This is the story of the three remote hamlets residing on the peripheries of the Bheembandh forests in the Haveli Kharagpur block of Munger, Bihar. These three villages of Motitarhi, Kenduatarhi and Doodhpaniya now sport one ICDS centre catering to 40 children, and two mini ICDS centres catering to 20 children in the age group of (3-6) years respectively (according to Government policy).The 40 children in the ICDS centre of Motitarhi will greet you with this song that is aimed to encourage parents to send their children (below 6 years of age) to the Anganwadis. This ICDS centre runs in the verandah of a rented hut. The owner of the house has graciously agreed to even rent the kitchen for the AWC worker and Sevika to cook lunch for the children. All three of these ICDS centres have been functional for the past one and a half years. Today, between the three of them, they have been able to cover all the children in the three villages and the parents are now happy with the services children and pregnant mothers receive from the centres.
A few years back, the reality was not so promising. The village had an Anganwadi Centre which was neither accessible, nor operational, and children used to suffer from visible lack of nutrition. It has taken CRY supported project partner Disha Vihar an advocacy effort of more than eight years to get these ICDS centres sanctioned. Umesh Manjhi and Moti Manjhi, residents of Motitarhi, relate how Disha Vihar’s intervention have reactivated the old ICDS Centre and linked the children of the village with it. “Now all our children go to the Anganwadi Centre every day; and Anjali Bahen, the Anganwadi worker, washes their hands properly before they have lunch; and makes sure they have a stomach-full,” said a beaming Moti Manjhi.
Even then, a look at the centres will tell you that they are definitely not ideal. “I try my best,” says Merry Anjali Marandi, the AWC worker, with a half-smile, pointing at the bunch of children, “But there are loads of challenges. We always run short of funds, as the inflow of money is very irregular… moreover, as we don’t have a building of our own, we have to pay Rs. 500 per month, as rent for this shack.”
We move to the village of Mai, where hundreds of families live on the banks of the Ganges. These families, by virtue of living on the riverbanks are not registered under any government. So the children of this village are unaccounted for. However, the ICDS centre that has been running in this village for the past 11 years has been named as a model ICDS centre by the government.
One look at the centre and you will be forced to wonder why! Cleanliness is hard to find in the area surrounding the centre, which is occupied by buffaloes and other domestic animals.The building is the community centre of the village and the ICDS remains closed any time there is a community programme or meeting. Not only this, but the roof might crash any minute, the floors are in despicable condition, a weighing machine has arrived after two years of constant application and follow up and there is no equipment to monitor the growth of the children.
The AWC worker who has been working here for the past 12 years will tell you that it has been extremely challenging to achieve just the feat of ensuring that all the children covered get 100% of the services available. Attached to children, she would love to extend the services to all the children in the village, but her hands are tied.
Having worked with children for more than a decade now, she is aware of the importance of initial years in their growth and development. All she can do is hope that someday all the children of Mai will have the access to all the services that are rightfully theirs.
A sheer contrast is the pink building beside the primary school in Shivnagar. This is the new home of the 11 year old ICDS centre of this village. This ICDS centre is fully functional and not only does it have a pukka building of its own, electricity, a kitchen, its own tubewell and a toilet, but also manages to cover all the children in the village. “Take Home Ration” is distributed regularly to pregnant women, and there is provision for Double Ration for severely malnourished children.
But what stands out even here is that, this building has only come up after 9 years of advocacy efforts put in by CRY partner Disha Vihar before which, it was housed in a rented hut like Motitarhi. That too, after concerted efforts from the community to give up the space adjacent to the school building.
When Disha Vihar had begun working in Munger, several anganwadis did not have their own buildings and were functioning from rented spaces. The parents and the community lacked the knowledge on preventive measures. Discrimination on the basis of gender was also rampant. So were the existence of several superstitious beliefs regarding pregnancy, birth and healthcare practices for children. Diligent efforts and continuous advocacy by the organisation and CRY have resulted in making inroads into the community, changing their beliefs and spreading awareness about the importance of care during pregnancy and childbirth for the mother, and the initial years in the child’s life.
Today, a lot of new ICDS centres have been sanctioned in the state and the villages of Haveli Kharagpur are definitely benefitting from it. Needless to say, however, the pace is extremely slow, and poses the question as to whether all the children will ever be covered by the Integrated Child Development Scheme.
Thankfully, though the challenges are many, the efforts continue to be indomitable.
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