The Anganwadis were started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program to combat child hunger and malnutrition.
A typical Anganwadi centre also provides basic health care. It is part of the public health-care system whose activities include contraceptive counseling and supply, nutrition education and supplementation, as well as pre-school activities. Along with the Anganwadi worker is an Anganwadi helper. This helper helps in basic things such as cooking food and doing the dishes. The Anganwadi worker on the other hand consistently needs to ensure that regular health and medical check ups of women who fall between the age group of 15 to 49 years take place and that all women and children have access to these check ups. They also work towards providing pre school education to children who are between 3 to 5 years old.
This is what the government expects the Anganwadi workers to do. They provided nothing for the maintenance of the infrastructure until last year; now they have been providing 3000 rupees annually. The Anganwadi worker is paid about 3000 rupees per month and the helper is paid 1500 rupees per month – this was introduced in the financial year 2011-2012 by the then Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in order to improve the poor state of governance of the ICDS. The kids are fed there. The helper cooks the ready to eat supplied by the government every month. The pre school education known as Anopkari Shiksha is given to kids below 6 years. The kids are to be taught songs/rhymes, told stories and made to play games according to a time table formulated by the government. But like any other programme it also has it’s short falls. The Government teachers usually pull the kids out of Anganwadi once they reach 4 years and join them into their schools as most of the kids in the community are being sent to the English medium private schools these days. Usually the kids that attend the Anganwadis are only fed and sent back home. The Anganwadi worker doesn’t teach much either.
Two weeks ago I’ve visited few Anganwadis in Mulshi, near Pune, I had to click pictures of kids. These were the Anganwadis in which CLR has intervened. These work a little differently than the regular ones. They have a well designed schedule for the kids where there is no free time for the kids and they are kept engaged through out. Either the kids are doing cognitive activities or are being told a story or are made to sing/dance or given timeout where they are free to do anything. I observed that they either draw or make craftwork or write something in this zone. This way the kids are being allowed to explore their field of interest. When the kids are left to themselves they can do wonders. Also every item in the Anganwadi is labeled. These are called sight words. There is this one kid who is about 4 years old. He drew a car and was explaining me its mechanism, how it works, on what it runs and so on. I was amazed that he knew all this at the age of 4! Later I found out that he could spell his name and he learnt it by himself just by looking at the sight words. They have their bags labeled with their names and that is how he learnt it …
Then again when the kids have a schedule on which they work, they know what activity comes after what and are so used to it that even if there is a slight change in the schedule they get a little cranky. When I was there and had to click pictures, I was trying to capture a specific activity which was not part of their time table, the kids were not ready to do it. Though I was ready to wait for them to finish their current activity. Then the Anganwadi worker explained the kids the purpose of my visit and the kids readily agreed. They are so used to the Anganwadi worker that they only listen to what she has to say.
Also what CLR has done is that, the Anganwadi helper doesn’t have much work except for cooking and cleaning. Once she finishes these, she is free. So, they have asked her to help the worker. Sometimes the Helper is better educated than the Worker. This way when there are two of them they can take better care of the kids. There is never an ideal way of doing a certain thing. Everything in life has its pros and cons.