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Far from cyber cafes and shopping malls, UNICEF summer interns get a taste of the other India

Jennifer Lefing, a study intern from USA poses with a group of women in Tamil Nadu
© UNICEF/India/2007
Jennifer Lefing, a study intern from USA poses with a group of women in Tamil Nadu.Jennifer was part of a team of 4 that studied UNICEF interventions in the tsunami affected schools of Nagapattanam and Cuddalore.

By Rama Srinivasan

6 August, 2007, New Delhi: Fifty-eight student interns were just back from a busy summer, which they spent documenting, filming and analysing UNICEF’s interventions in the field.

India’s problematic caste question formed the backdrop of most presentations and films of the 15-odd groups of interns who spent their summer conducting field researches as part of UNICEF’s summer internship programme called the Knowledge Community for Children in India (KCCI). They presented their findings at the closing workshop held on August 6-7 at New Delhi.

UNICEF’s internship programme is a learning and documentation initiative under KCCI involving the participation of interns from India and abroad, working in collaboration with leading research institutes.  This year the internship programme attracted 58 participants from11 countries and ran from 4 June to 10 August 2007

The groups, mostly in teams of 4, visited 12 states in India to study the various social initiatives supported by UNICEF in India .

The presentation by the Jharkhand team on ‘Routine Immunisation - social exclusion issues impacting on universalisation of fully immunised children’, which based its study on the condition of the Saber community of Ghutia village, argued that universal immunisation had little or no significance when nutrition levels showed no improvement and in fact were deteriorating. Their proposal of installing a mini anganwadi for the Sabers’ tolla (group), might work in isolation as far as the issue of immunisation and nutrition was concerned but could also inadvertently strengthen untouchability.     

Equally challenging was the task of ensuring neo-natal childcare. Martin Gutierrez, a member of the Madhya Pradesh team, compared the situation with his country, Bolivia, where the integrated management of childhood and neo-natal illness (IMNCI) was first initiated, to find that poverty and patriarchy were the overriding concerns in both places.
The team’s presentation was on one of the poorest districts in India, Shivpuri. It dwelled on the lack of access to government healthcare facilities and mushrooming of dubious private clinics but more disturbingly the fact that IMNCI was not a priority at all.

Freedom from home work was a major achievement of the quality education programme, run by the UNICEF in tsunami affected schools of Nagapattanam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. The team found that changes to the physical environment, like providing better furniture to the students, alone increased participation and enthusiasm. Coupled with innovative teaching methods like using cards, the activity-based learning programme, according to the team, had been a success. But corporal punishment remained a concern for the researchers, who triggered a discussion on its cultural acceptance and possible solutions to the problem.

The film ‘Managing water in Madhya Pradesh’ quoted government officials extensively but made a case for community ownership of the wise water management scheme, which is at the moment not demand-driven. The team’s report ‘scaling up wise water management in marginalised communities’ found the programme top-down and recommended upscaling only within the framework of the integrated village planning exercise.

Research on the highly sensitive issue on protection of Dalit children was as interesting for its methodology as it was for its findings; this was done by a group of four girls who tackled the difficult subject of 'Child Protection and Dalit Children' in the rural countryside of Haryana The group members used a combination of ice-breaking strategies like games and dream-mapping to gain the trust of their respondents. They found that their target group – Dalit children – were not only disadvantaged by the absence of a legalised definition of child protection but also that the Prevention of Atrocities against SCs/STs Act, whose implementation itself is minimal, did not adequately address the question of child rights.

Another group which visited the Lalitpur district of UP to study the village micro planning process in mobilising youth for governance, regarded birth registration as an important tool and recommended more emphasis on the Sahariya tribes. Tejinder Sandhu of the UNICEF, complimented the research for bringing out the challenges faced by the Integrated Village Planning process, while emphasizing that understanding the context and history of a state was equally important.

At the close of the workshop, UNICEF’s Deputy Country Representative Eimar Barr
said, “It is a great opportunity for young people as it exposes them to different cultures and gives them a better idea of what they want to do with their lives.” As far as the UNICEF is concerned, he hoped that the research would help the organisation gain a better insight of its work in the field. “Most of our staff is involved in the implementation of our programmes. Some of the recommendations of the previous years’ interns have been mainstreamed. We also hope to disseminate their findings to the government and other partner organisations,” he said.

For many interns this association has affirmed their commitment to the development sector, as exemplified by Anandini, part of the Haryana group: "Though the programme has ended, we have been discussing that we cannot leave it here. All of us planned to finish this internship and resume whatever we were doing but we now want to work on these issues sometime in the future,."

 

 

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