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Children’s clubs create health awareness in tribal areas

By Satyanarayan Pattnaik

Koraput, Orissa : All the girls in Puki village under the Badakarenga Panchayat in Koraput district now attend school. Three primary schools and four education centres under the Education Guarantee Scheme have been opened in last couple of years. Villagers of the panchayat are now well aware of various diseases as well as benefits of safe sanitation and the importance of educating their children, thanks to the efforts of Bal Sanghas (children groups) formed in various villages of the panchayat.

Bal Sanghas comprise all the children of the villages between the age group of 6 to 18 years. 59 such groups have been formed in various villages of the district with 2,955 children, including 1,211 girls, as its members. The formation of these groups started in the year 2003 in different villages under the guidance of a local voluntary organisation called SOVA (South Orissa Voluntary Action).

These Bal Sanghas have now become torchbearers for others in the tribal district of Koraput. The children go from door-to-door in their villages and motivate parents to send their children to school. They try to motivate parents, teachers and members of the village education committees, panchayat members, and ICDS staffs to strengthen the existing education centres. They spread awareness about malaria and ways to prevent the disease from spreading. They also inculcate a sense of citizenship among the children and create awareness on child rights and campaign for it.

"Due to poverty and illiteracy, children of rural areas are deprived of many facilities they are entitled to. These village-level clubs are formed to provide children an opportunity express themselves and to increase their participation in village development programmes, especially in the area of education and health," said Sanjit Patnaik, secretary of SOVA.

He added that, "Children clubs are an effective strategy for implementing the activities pertaining to the development of children. Issues presented by children in such a platform are acknowledged more sincerely by elders and duty bearers.

Children feel proud when their issues are taken up and they are motivated to participate with more sincerity."  “The drop-out rate in the panchayat, which was 374 in 2003, is now 84 and this is due to the efforts of these children's groups," Patnaik said.  

"People in villages generally prefer the traditional methods of treatment than to a hospital. We motivate them to go to the nearby hospitals and take medicines. We are trying to make the villagers understand the benefits of sanitation and education," said Parvati Khosla, secretary of the Bal Sangha in Puki village.

"We are trying to convince the parents to send their children to school if they don't listen to us we starts beating drums in front of their homes till they concede. Earlier the children of this village attended the school in nearby Kendubeda village but due to our efforts a primary school was established here in 2005," she added.

A management committee is formed to carry out the day-to-day affairs of the club. The president, secretary and treasurer are elected through a democratic process for a period of three years. Either the post of the secretary or president is reserved for a girl child. Bal Sangha meetings are held once in a month where various problems of the village are discussed and a strategy is prepared to deal with them.

A weekly donation of one rupee is collected from each member as contribution, to pay for the club's day-to-day activities. Above the village-level clubs are the panchayat-level clubs and the office bearers of the village-level clubs automatically become the members of the panchayat level children's club and here also the post of secretary or president is reserved for a girl.

"Through puppet shows and street theatres we try to create awareness about HIV/AIDS among illiterate villagers. Children from different villages encounter different problems, we identify the issues and prepare an action plan to address them," said Minati Badnaik, secretary of the panchayat-level Bal Sangha of Badkeranga Panchayat.
The villagers who initially did not paid much attention to the children's efforts are now showering praise on them and encouraging them. "The children's effort in spreading awareness about malaria is commendable. Earlier in our village, most of the people died because of the fever due to ignorance about the precautionary measures to be taken. "Due to the efforts of these clubs the school dropout rate in our panchayat has come down. These children's are now participating in all our village-level meetings and putting forward their problems," said the villagers of Badakeranga Panchayat.



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