|© UNICEF India/2009/Vishvanath|
|Women members of the milk co-operative and self help groups gather at the village information centre in Dungari Reliya, Valsad District.|
GUJARAT, India, 11 August 2009 – In the underdeveloped Valsad district of Gujurat, a unique and innovative partnership has been established between UNICEF and the Vasadhara Dairy.
Gujurat is a progressive state that faces a development paradox. Despite its impressive economic, industrial and urban growth, and its good infrastructure, the human development indices of child survival, development and protection have not shown commensurate improvement.
Infant mortality rates have been stagnant for the last 10 years in Gujurat and regional surveys indicate that malnutrition affects 45 per cent of the area’s children. Such issues can be attributed, in part, to a lack of community empowerment and knowledge, which could help to enable families to take action to ensure social development.
‘Behaviour Change Communication’
In an effort to empower the community, UNICEF launched a Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) programme in the area.
As part of the programme, 469 villages of the Valsad district were apprised and 2,000 village volunteers - mostly women - were given training that focussed on developing their interpersonal communication skills. They were also trained in five specific behaviours: exclusive breast feeding; hand washing with soap; education of girls; prevention of HIV/AIDS; and use of iodised salt.
The volunteers use specially developed posters, leaflets, booklets, songs, films and other communication materials to spread awareness about appropriate behaviour practices through household visits or regular group meetings at Village Information Centres. They have now expanded their work to mobilize families with young children to use outreach services.
When UNICEF had the opportunity to link the BCC initiative to the Vasadhara Dairy, it was able to integrate the dairy’s strong network of predominantly women’s cooperative societies for milk production across the district, and to piggy-back the initiative on the Dairy’s Clean Milk Campaign, which began in 2001. The initial mandate was to bring about behaviour change at the family level and to bring outreach services closer to the community.
“Our intention, when we began this unique partnership with Vasudhara Dairy, was to advocate simple behaviour change that would have a significant impact on child survival and development in the district,” said UNICEF Chief of Field Office in Gujarat Dr. Yogendra Mathur.
|© UNICEF India/2009/Vishvanath|
|Evening milk collection in the Valsad District of Gujarat. Women in the dairy collective are encouraged by UNICEF to form self-help groups, get microfinance for their needs, and educate their daughters.|
From the start, the partnership was a natural fit.
“There is an innate synergy between the Clean Milk Campaign of the Dairy and Behaviour Change Communications advocated by UNICEF,” said UNICEF Communications Officer in Gujurat Gurinder Singh Gulati. “For example, the hygiene aspects of milking – the need to wash hands with soap – are equally applicable before feeding children.”
Aligned for success
The dairy, which belongs to the Valsad District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited, was also able to benefit from its association with UNICEF.
“Since 2005, the Dairy’s performance indicators have shown remarkable improvement in Valsad district where we are associated with UNICEF,” said Project Manager of Cooperative Development for the Vasudhara Dairy Suresh Desai. “This includes the formation of additional cooperative societies, some of which are in villages we had not even been to before.”
All involved are committed to the partnership’s focus on the social and economic empowerment of women through the dairy cooperative, and expect even more progress to be made.
“We encourage women to form self-help groups, get microfinance for their needs, and educate their daughters,” said Senior Officer of Cooperative Development with Vasadhara Dairy and District Coordinator for the UNICEF-Dairy partnership, Beena Desai. “Basically we help women to help themselves, their families, their children and their communities.”