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Child-centred Village Planning in Gujarat – A Powerful Tool for Child Survival and Development

© UNICEF/India/Gulati/2005
Veena Ben explaining the importance of washing hands with soap to the school children of Panchlai village

by Gurinder Gulati

A five-day child-centred village planning process, initiated by UNICEF in partnership with Vasudhara Dairy was held in Valsad district in Gujarat.  Meetings were strategically held at the milk collection centres in the mornings and evenings when women and men came in to deliver milk. 

August 2005 - Nested in the Vindhyachal range of mountains, Karjun is a remote village of Kaprada block of Valsad district in the state of Gujarat. The generally carefree and happy populace of this tribal village is in a somber mood today because a team of women who had come to Karjun for a five-day village planning exercise are leaving.  Not only have they come together to see them off at the Dairy Cooperative Society, but the village women are also crying and urging the village planning team to come back soon.
Despite being an economically developed state, 60 infants out of every 1,000 live births in Gujarat do not live to celebrate their first birth day, and one out of two children below five years is malnourished. “We are information-deprived. No one comes here to educate us.

"If not for this village planning team of women, I would have never known about birth spacing”, says Jipri Ben Gamit of Karjun. Similarly, other women of Karjun learned about exclusive breastfeeding, hand washing with soap, HIV/AIDS, appropriate maternal and child caring practices.   “For the first time we have learnt about the disorders that can be caused, particularly in the case of pregnant women and children by consumption of non-iodized salt.  I will now always buy iodized salt”, says Maniben Choudhary.   Information was disseminated on these important issues during the “Gram Baithaks” (village meetings) organized as a part of the five-day child-centered village planning process initiated by UNICEF in partnership with Vasudhara Dairy in Valsad district.  Meetings were strategically held at the milk collection centres in the mornings and evenings when women and men came in to deliver milk. 

Panchla is a village in the interior with 700 odd inhabitants. Veena, a member of the Self Help Group formed by Vasudhara Dairy, has successfully demonstrated and convinced the village’s primary school children that apparently clean looking hands can actually be dirty and need to be washed with soap before eating or cooking. This exercise has animated the children who can now boast of their knowledge on personal hygiene and safe drinking water.  Says Manoj Patel, a student of Class IV, “I now know that how critical it is to wash hands with soap before eating so as to prevent germs from entering my body.  This will protect me from infections such as diarrhoea”.

UNICEF has initiated child-centred village planning in Gujarat to empower the community with knowledge of desirable behaviour to enhance child survival and development.  Despite being an economically developed state, 60 infants out of every 1,000 live births in Gujarat do not live to celebrate their first birth day, and one out of two children below five years is malnourished.  About 33% children are born with low birth weight. It is hoped that village planning process will act as a powerful tool to bring about behaviour change at family level and help in reducing infant mortality and levels of malnutrition.

© UNICEF/India/Gulati/2005
A village meeting being held in Karjun village as a part of the Village Planning process.

During the five-day process, the team of women of Vasudhara Dairy conduct a house-to-house survey about the current knowledge, attitude, and practices of people related to child health, water, sanitation and education. The process culminates in a Gram Baithak held on the fifth day. In this meeting, the entire village comes together and the village planning team presents the survey results.  Based on these results, people identify issues related to children and voluntarily take responsibility to resolve these.  It was as a result of this Gram Baithak in Tanki, a remote interior village in Dharampur that fifteen village women realized the need for toilets in their houses and have decided to construct the same. This is a revolutionary change in attitude given that the people are used to open defecation in this village.

“Village planning has given us education on how to live life”, says Sumitra Bhoya, an agricultural worker of Tanki.

According to Arvindbhai, secretary of the Dairy Cooperative Society in Tanki, “Though we had soap in our homes we did not know about the critical importance of its use. I and my family members used to wash our hands with water only before eating. Now, after village planning, we have learnt about the importance of soap for washing hands”.
It is no small task for the women of Vasudhara Dairy to contribute to the process of development - moving from the micro-level of their house to the macro-level of the district. Not only has village planning led to change in knowledge and attitude of people but it has also built a rank of women leaders who now feel empowered enough to make change happen in villages of Valsad. Says Veena, “I never used to speak in public earlier – in fact I never uttered a word. Now, I can talk freely.”

Tarulata, a member of the Vasudhara Dairy who was deployed in Karjun for the village planning exercise already feels empowered due to the enabling potential of village planning. She says, “I did face difficulties especially because of lack of bathroom and toilet facilities but I feel overjoyed at making a difference to the village people. I did cry when I came from home to join the training program, but I also cried when I left the village after the completion of the village planning exercise. I wish to go back again and do something more for the people.” It is no small task for the women of Vasudhara Dairy to contribute to the process of development - moving from the micro-level of their house to the macro-level of the district. According to Jaswanti Patel, a member of the village planning team, “I have been always involved in household work or dairy work but never ever did social work. I feel better now that I have been able to contribute to the process of development.”

“We have made a promising start.  However, we have a long way to go in making a dent in the stagnant infant mortality and malnutrition amongst children in the state.  I am convinced that it can be made possible through the participatory process of child-centered village planning”, says Dr Yogendra Mathur, State Representative of UNICEF Gujarat State Office.

 

 

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