A whiff of change in Kotpad
By Sarada Lahangir and Lalatendu Acharya
Today her parents sing a very different song. Thanks to the process of village planning initiated by UNICEF and the district administration with local NGOs, now the same man who protested against sending the girl to school, is in the forefront advocating for his daughter's education. "I want my daughter to be an educated “didi”, Janani's father says.
Sukri Gonda beams broadly as she shows the newly erected toilet in her house. She has dug a roughly hewn soak pit that takes in the wastewater and prevents the huge mess of slush that used to run through the small village Khapariguda, about 50 km from the district headquarters of Koraput. It is a visibly clean village with slogans propagating sanitary habits and cleanliness written large on its walls. From a single household toilet, the village now has 8 completed toilets with 30 more under construction – well on the way to achieving 100 percent sanitation. "In a few days, all houses will have their own toilets.” said a beaming Sukri.
"I am not ignorant anymore and I’m not going to take any chances with my baby this time. I am religiously following the instructions and advice of the ANM “didi” (sister) regarding diet and immunization of my child", she said with confidence.
Adopting the norms of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) in the village based planning exercise, the NGOs facilitated the community to identify their own problems, prioritize them and find solutions. People’s participation and ownership has been key in the success of the programme.
A minimum of 16 indicators were taken which included birth registration and certification of every child, complete immunization, reduction of infant mortality and maternal mortality rates, promoting hygienic practices, access to safe drinking water, reducing dropout rates, promoting breast feeding and institutional delivery, discouragement of child marriages, motivation to use iodized salt and imparting knowledge on HIV/AIDS.
The village action plan was neither an exercise in isolation nor an end in itself. During the planning exercise, the community made an honest assessment of what they could do themselves with available resources (physical, financial and services) and where they required external assistance. The Village Youth Volunteers identified by the community and trained by the NGOs formed a vital link between the people and the line functionaries such as panchayat members, anganwadi centre, school and so on in terms of building relationships.
The community took the responsibility of monitoring progress and made course corrections as required through regular meetings. The volunteers supported the community by providing basic information and holding regular discussions related to children and women thus keeping the spirit of self-help alive.
Among the major indicators monitored are the infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR), both high in Koraput district. IMR for southern districts at 92 – an approximation for Koraput is 30% higher than the Orissa average of 75 per 1,000 live births. The National Sample Survey (NSS) 2005 showed that only 8% women went for institutional delivery and 15.2% deliveries were attended by Skilled Birth Attendants (SBA) in Koraput which was much lower than the state figures of 38.7% and 46.4% respectively.
During the village planning period, pregnant women were encouraged to go for timely registration, anti-natal care and institutional delivery paving the way for increased child survival and safe motherhood. In Kotpad block where the first round of village planning was initiated, institutional delivery increased from 8 % to 12% and deliveries by SBA from 15% to 31%. The incidence of maternal deaths reduced to nil (for 266 deliveries since the beginning of the Village Planning). In the Gram Panchayats (GP) of Ghumar, Bhansuli, Kusumi, SB nuagan, Bobeya, institutional deliveries have gone up from a figure of 0 six months back to 8 (12% increase). This was the first time after the village planning exercise that the three pregnant women from Khapariguda village went in for institutional delivery.
Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) Ms. Subasini Panda says with deep emotion, “In the 12 years of my career as ANM, I had never seen such a positive change in the behavior of the villagers that I’ve seen in the last five months after the village planning exercise.”
The village planning process had acted as a catalyst in making people aware of their health and hygiene issues across 180 villages of Kotpad block. Almost 7% of the total 19,744 households use latrines and many more are being completed compared to only 4% earlier. Simultaneously construction of toilets at the anganwadi centres and schools has also picked up.
“Although I had soap in my house I never used it for washing hands. After participating in village planning discussions, I wash hands with soap after defecation, after cleaning cow-dung, before cooking, before feeding my children and eating food", said Sukla Majhi of Khapariguda village. She proudly added that she had also cultivated this habit in her children, her mother-in-law and husband.
The school drop out rate has also registered a decline in the villages after the village planning process. In Tutiaguda village of Ghumar GP there were 14 drop-out children like Janani. The community by its own initiative built a class-room and accommodated these children. 40 children now study in the community renovated school.
“The idea was that the community should take charge and be part of the planning process, the essence of ‘bottom-up planning’. We wanted to institutionalize the whole mechanism, so that decentralized planning and community empowerment continues even after the project comes to an end. Joint planning and monitoring by the community & service providers and follow-up by the community at official forums (GP / Block level Nodal Officers’ meetings) under Village Planning ensured information sharing among the stakeholders and facilitated decision-making by the administration. Since the entire process was part of the existing institutional set-up, it was sustainable. An empowered community contributed effectively to the entire planning mechanism & impacted community behavior as evidenced in Kotpad, and elsewhere; The process had begun”, says Ms. Srabani Guha, Planning Officer, UNICEF.
Block Development Officer, Mr. Pradeep Behera says, “The village micro-planning process has not only brought about the desired changes in behaviour, but the sense of empowerment, particularly amongst women is remarkable”.