|© UNICEF video|
|Twelve-year-old Suguna (2nd row, left) sits with her classmates under a tree in the village of Irudalam. Her class is a ‘bridge course’, designed to keep up the studies of children who have dropped out of school.|
By Rob McBride
BANGALORE, India, 5 January 2006 – Twelve-year-old Suguna sits with the rest of her classmates under a tree in the village of Irudalam. The soft rhythmic chant of their voices mingles with that of their teacher, drifting across the simple stone and mud houses of this traditional community. Suguna’s class is a ‘bridge course’, designed to keep up the studies of children who have dropped out of school – with the hope of getting them back into formal education later.
Suguna was taken out of school by her father, Obisilamy, when his wife, Radhamma, gave birth to their fourth child. As the eldest daughter, it fell to Suguna to look after the child while the mother continued to earn a daily wage of 30 rupees (about 70 U.S. cents).
Suguna is now back in school, thanks to the success of an ambitious micro-planning project – supported by UNICEF and its local partners – to promote a model for community development, especially with respect to children’s needs.
The cornerstone of micro-planning is to get all members of the community involved in identifying common problems – and then set out to solve them. During an intensive five-day exercise, all the essential indicators that point to the health of a community are assessed and a detailed plan drawn up to make life better. Then volunteer groups set about implementing the changes.
|© UNICEF video|
|Volunteers use the knowledge they’ve learned during micro-planning training to convince a mother to continue exclusive breastfeeding of her child up to six months.|
Micro-planning focuses on child’s needs
“As part of the process the adults will come to know what the rights of the child are,” says Madhayan, a facilitator helping to implement micro-planning on the ground on behalf of his non-governmental organization (NGO), ‘Myrada’, a local partner of UNICEF. He continues, “It’s just not enough to provide food and shelter – there’s much more for a parent to do for a child.”
Suguna would have grown up uneducated and illiterate, had it not been for the pressure brought to bear by the local community on her father.
“The teacher told me she was doing well at school,” said Obilisamy. “And after asking me two or three times, finally I agreed to let her go back.”
“I am happy to be back at school with my friends,” Suguna tells us.
Small achievements could lead to big changes
It is evident that micro-planning can improve lives of villagers in many ways. Pushpa, a 19-year-old volunteer, learnt about the benefit of breastfeeding during the micro-planning training. Using that knowledge she successfully convinced a new mother to continue exclusive breastfeeding of her child up to six months, rather than introducing cow’s milk into the baby’s diet.
“I am keen to pass on everything I have learned myself to the other villagers, so that they can also benefit and be healthy,” said Pushpa.
“There have been lots of changes in the village,” says one mother, Vijaya, holding her son, Jaipaul. “They told me how important it was to continue breastfeeding up to six months, and this I have done. The baby is very healthy now,” she adds, as another volunteer, Krishnaveni, waits to the side to show another mother how to test for iodised salt.
From these small achievements, it’s hoped great change will come to the Indian countryside. A total of 16 districts across India are taking part in this social experiment. But nowhere else is the gulf between India old and new as evident as here in Krishnagiri. Just one hour away by road from the new hi-tech industries of Bangalore, the timelessness of rural life could be a world away. Lacking many of the amenities and facilities now available to their urban cousins, it’s hoped micro-planning will at least improve conditions in the typical Indian village, especially for children.
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on UNICEF’s micro-planning project in rural India.