“In the first 5 years of life, experiences and relationships stimulate and influence children’s development. Their brain develops connections the fastest within this age slot as compared to any other time in life. This is the time when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life are laid down. Babies are born ready to learn. Their brains develop through use. Hence, it is important for children to be nurtured in stimulating and caring environments, giving them the space to play and learn through various activities.”– Raising children Network
The rural belt of South Rajasthan has numerous families that struggle to earn their daily wages. In most cases, the male bread earners usually seek jobs outside of the state, migrating away from their families. The female homemakers hold the responsibility of attending to the fields and completing household chores. In the midst of this, the children within their homes are neglected.
Lack of knowledge surrounding the importance of focusing on early child development is one of the long standing reasons for the said neglect.
My first visit to one of Basic Health Care Service’s (BHS) day care centers in the Salumber block of Udaipur, left me thrilled. I was briefed about where I was going and the functions of the same, but what my eyes saw was beyond any explanation. There were 8 children between the age of 6 months to 5 years. They were about to finish having their lunch, which is Khichdi with generous amounts of oil and boiled eggs. They seemed to relish every morsel.
The older kids assisted the younger ones to eat and pick up their plates and stack them aside. They all stood in line to get their hands washed, a practice that is infused within the model of hygiene within these day care centers. The discipline followed while leaving some room for those notorious smiles because they saw me, a new face, was eternally heartwarming.
BHS runs 13 day care centers across the Salumbar and Gogunda blocks of Udaipur. The aim of the centers is to curb the absence of nutritional practices while providing a safe and nurturing environment for children between the age of 6 months to 5 years. They focus on the physical, social, mental, creative and linguistic development of the children.
These centers employ 26 workers (2 at each center) who take care of the children between 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The children are served with hot nutritious meals like Sattu (a flour made from a mixture of roasted and ground pulses and cereals such as barley and gram) for breakfast and Khichdi, for lunch.
These Centers started 6 years ago and have witnessed an improved rate of hygiene and feeding practices among children as well as their families. A meeting with the parents of the children and the workers is held every month at the centers. At these meetings, the mothers have happily shared that they are extremely grateful for such a space where their child is fed and looked after. They have also noticed positive differences in their child’s behaviour at home.
The purpose of these meetings is to involve the parents in growth of their children, update them about the progress made, discuss their expectations from us and vice versa. Every three months, the height and weight of the children are recorded.
To utilize the time spent at the centers to the best benefit of the children enrolled, we engage in interactive activities with them. Reciting action songs, poems, learning names of fruits, vegetables, animals, and numbers, through pictures, have been a part of their daily routine. These centers have been running smoothly and have shown signs of an open window to further enhance the growth and development experience.
Hence, with the help of an early child development professional, we hold training programs with our workers once every two months. These training sessions amplify the engagement process between us and children. A new addition to the daily activities includes 20 minutes of regular conversation, where the children begin to explain how their day is going, what they ate last night, what was their mother wearing, and what they are feeling at the moment.
Some of the additional activities include, match the following, assembling objects in ascending and descending orders, naming items in Wagdi/Mewadi (local dialects) and in Hindi, and making patterns. This not only benefits children and their learning, but also empowers the workers to strengthen their abilities and improve their communication and interpersonal skills.
My role at these day care centers is to engage with the workers and children, supporting them in every way possible. I sit with the children and we browse through story books with illustrations and recite action songs. Machli Jal Ki Rani Hai has been the most favoured action song on popular demand, and I find it stuck in my head even after I am home.
It was a triumphant moment for the community members and the team of BHS when a hamlet called Dhaba Kheth reached out to us with persistent requests to open a daycare center, a learning space for their children. They shared that they don’t want their children to fall behind.
“We have struggled for years. We want a better future for our children.” said Amma with her granddaughter sitting on her lap. They quickly took me to a house where the center could function and introduced me to a potential worker who was full of energy to begin working right away.
When communities recognise that their strength lies within their ability to reach out to the right places for help, our work is halfway done.
My weekly visits to these day care centers and my interactions with the children provide a portal to the world of innocence for me. The effort that goes into running each center and continuously putting in the work to achieve great results has been commendable. I have learnt the value of teamwork, dedication, respect and above all, passion, while working with BHS.
I watch as the children play, sing, eat, and peacefully take their afternoon naps, assured that they are happy and safe – giving ultimate meaning to the name of these day care centers – Phulwari, which means ‘A bed of flowers’.