Life itself is a journey and no matter from where you start, it doesn’t stop, until of course it does, for the one final time. My recent journey started from my hometown – Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. As I have spent 21 years of my life there, I wanted to explore and understand the people around the world. The first step towards that was to apply to the fellowship program at India Fellow. I still remember the day when I was leaving for my induction training in Udaipur and my mother asked, “Are you sure about this?”. The curiosity of getting to know the world better, grew stronger within me. I knew that I am prepared and this is what I want.
It’s been two month since I left my house. Currently, I am living in Utnur, a small town in Adilabad district of Telangana. Adilabad is considered as one of the hottest regions in India and yes, I now know why. Another thing for which this district is known is the high infant mortality rate. I remember talking to my mentor here, who is also the founder of my organization, I DO, about the huge number of malnourished children in this region.
I always knew about the deaths of infants and kids due to malnourishment and lack of nutrition but never imagined that it could be one of the biggest concerns in our country. How unaware and unknown is the whole population about this silent killer. For last two months of working with my organization, every day I admire and value the initiative taken by them to save every new born and give him/her a healthy and happy future.
During my first field visit to a village with one of my team members here, as I was entering the rural area, I noticed that it was completely different from the villages I had been to, during my rural immersion in the induction training of India Fellow. We crossed a board which said, “The Tiger Reserve, Kawal”. I got really excited and felt like going to a jungle. As we reached the village, I saw a completely different world of tribal people. They were living with the forest. Their livelihood depends on nature. The walls of the houses were constructed with wood and mud. Almost every household was covered and barricaded with long thick wood logs.
We moved ahead, inside the village through a muddy kaccha road and stopped in front of the Aanganwadi centre. The innocent smile of the children who were playing there melted my heart and I wanted to talk to them. So I went and asked a kid, “Aapka naam kya hai?” and the kid ran away. Then I realized that it is going to be tough year for me because I don’t speak Telugu or the local tribal language, ‘Gondi’. People living here are from Gondi tribe which makes it difficult for me to communicate or get involved in the community. Until now, I have found it to be the biggest difficulty as interacting with the community is really important to work with them.
As it was my first visit to an Aanganwadi centre, I was taking pictures and observing kids as they did their pre-school activities. They were having fun but I later got to know that they are malnourished. It was unexpected for me as they looked good from outside, some of them even healthy. How could they be weak and malnourished from the inside? It is difficult to understand the seriousness of the problem when everything seems fine and this has been a major challenge for us. Parents think that their child is doing well, walking and playing around. It is hard to make them realize that he/she needs help.
Another incident that disturbed me for a very long time and still does happened on the day when I went to take the measurements of the kids and pregnant women. A child’s life and hence, health starts inside the mother’s womb and we need to be careful since then. One lady came and I weighed her. She was only 35 kg. It was obvious that she is weak and I thought that she must be 1 or 2 months pregnant because as was so thin and had no belly.
I asked my team mate to ask her to eat well and make her understand that she is really weak. In response, what I heard was shocking. She was 7 months pregnant and only 20 years old. Here I was, 21-year old and of 70 kgs. There was this urge inside me to know how she can be so weak. I could not believe that she is carrying a 7 month baby inside her. Even though I was not able to talk to her, I wanted to tell her that she needs to take care of herself and eat healthy but I felt so helpless at that moment, and the only thing I could do was to ask my teammates to convey all this to her. They talked to her and found out that she’s not eating as much as she used to, when she was not pregnant.
Why? I asked. Why was she eating less when she is supposed to eat more than usual? It was surprisingly weird for me to know the bitter truth that pregnant woman here eat less because they want their child to be thin and weak. It is then easier and less painful to deliver the baby as it comes out without much issues.
I always thought the reason for malnourishment is poverty as the poor people may not be able to afford nutritious food for themselves and their children. But after listening to this story, my mind blew up on knowing that there are a lot of other reasons that need different kind of interventions. We have to look at this deeply.
During a conversation with an Aanganwadi worker, I got to know about a woman who is pregnant and already has a 1 year old daughter who is still being breast fed. Imagine the health of the mother and the babies.
All these stories made me realize that there are so many unknown practices and beliefs about which we are extremely unaware. I personally feel that there is a lot to learn in order to understand and bring change which would be difficult to do in a small period of time. The world needs deeply impactful ways to solve some issues that are still undercover.