It was early in the morning when I reached Adilabad railway station and was welcomed with a stench of faeces which made me realize for the first time about how Adilabad still has open defecation. I knew that I have stepped into a backward and poorly developed district of Telangana that is becoming cleaner and healthier bit by bit. There, in Utnoor mandal headquarters, our organization, I DO is working on saving every newborn child by reducing Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR).
A typical day would have village bustling with activity, people going to work on their fields and some of them selling their harvested goods (vegetables) in mandi. Here, the villages are small and close to the forest. There is a protected area in the forest for a tiger reserve, called the “Kawal Tiger Reserve”. Many hamlets of tribal communities are found near Utnoor’s Mandal. Accessibility has improved over the years with pakka and kachcha roads that connect them to the highway.
It was arduous for the team to have started off with these villages to initiate something that would change the way children grow up here, and how Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers are treated. Most people here are cotton farmers. The state of severely malnourished children is highly volatile. Some of the villages don’t even have their own Aanganwadi centers and many of them have no idea about the supplies being issued to them from the government. What is supposed to be rightfully given to the beneficiaries, i.e. people here, is in some cases, not reaching them because of shameful scams by those working at Aanganwadis. I found it disrespectful.
I recently went to a field area with a local coordinator to take the measurements of children coming to Aanganwadi, for their height, weight and Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC). This is done to understand how healthy a child is. This was also the first time when I used an instrument called a Salter scale to measure the weight of children. It was such a wonderful experience doing this but I also felt silly for not knowing how to tie a saree through the hook of the scale to weigh a child. The instrument is only used for children and not adults considering its shape, size and method. I am at a nascent stage of learning many things which reduces the action sometimes but even then I am humbly getting acquainted with those breaks in between the otherwise eventful days.
That was just the beginning…
Recently, one day, when I went to conduct a survey, people asked what is it about and what’s your purpose of doing this. As usual, with a smile on my face, I told them that I am conducting this survey in order to know the number of households, number of children below 6 years of age, number of pregnant women and lactating mothers. Further, I went on to tell that this survey would help us identify the weaker children in respective villages to work towards regaining their health by sending them to Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC). I was glad that I could make them understand the importance of child health but the present state and the way Anganwadi Centers are functioning, people felt despicable and disheartened.
One of them asked, “If you solve this problem in our village, will it reach the higher authorities? Will we get what we should as beneficiaries?” I am afraid I didn’t have an answer and to tell that everything will be taken care of, would be doubtfully assuring.
One thing that I could recognise in most of these villages is that the people here are not much active or are disinterested in raising their voices which leads to exercising minimum caution. I don’t mean to be rebellious or intimidate people to follow violent retaliation for poor services but they can come together and speak up at the village level. Rather, they want someone else to give them an opportunity or initiate a platform where they can express either as a group or as an individual. I really appreciate the fact that people participate in such events but it becomes problematic when there is no follow-up after the intervention is done and we need to back-up.
It becomes difficult for the government or local administration to meet the ends and that’s where an NGO like ours intervenes and finds such lacunae. Within one month of field immersion and a lot of discussions with my mentor and team members, I am gaining momentum at a slow pace for now. There’s so much to unlearn and learn.
Like a Salter scale, I am weighing myself like a small child grasping several things step-by-step, gram by gram, inch by inch.