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Peer Educators in Valsad bring about behaviour change

© UNICEF/ Gurinder Gulati/ 2008
Peer Educators undergoing training in performing arts at Darpana Academy

Gurinder Gulati

Valsad district, Gujarat: “The play that the girls performed today taught me why I must wash my hands with soap before eating”, said Geeta Tandel, a high school student from Hingraj village of Valsad district.

Ignorance about child care practices and hygiene behaviour is one of the major causes contributing to high levels of malnutrition in Valsad, a predominantly tribal and under-developed district of Gujarat. UNICEF recognized the need to empower the community with information on key behaviors for the survival and development of children. Its positive experience of working with young Peer Educators in reaching out to the community on issues related to sex education and HIV /AIDS helped in determining the course of action in this case.

Darpana Academy, a pioneer institution in performing arts, was identified to train a group of fifty Peer Educators from Valsad to create awareness among caregivers about key behaviours related to child care practices and hygiene. 

The Peer Educators were trained to use traditional media to communicate messages on infant and young child feeding practices, child immunization, safe motherhood, washing hands with soap, consumption of iodized salt, girls’ education, appropriate age of marriage and birth registration.

© UNICEF/ Gurinder Gulati/ 2008
Peer Educators enacting a role play on child care

After training, the Peer Educators organized traditional street theatre  or Bhavai  shows in the villages.  These contributed to improving  the community’s child care practices like exclusive breast feeding, hand washing with soap and consumption of iodized salt.

The training in performing arts to influence child caring behaviour has not only helped in creating awareness, but also in building confidence and self-esteem amongst the Peer Educators themselves. “Ever since I started performing and participating in plays, I have become famous in my village”, says Kunjan Patel from Jora Vasan village of Valsad, while Amitaben Patel from Kaprada village says “The workshops at Darpana have given us the confidence to be able to communicate on any social issue. We are not afraid and can answer questions confidently”.

“The success of using Peer Educators to communicate with the community using folk media, has prompted another group of fifty Peer Educators from Vadodara and Surat districts being sent to Darpana for training” said Dr. Yogendra Mathur, UNICEF State Representative.

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