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In India, UNICEF Executive Board members take pulse of progress toward MDGs

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: India
© UNICEF India/2006/Amudha
At a school in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, UNICEF Executive Board President Andrei Dapkiunas gets a lesson in handwashing from Richa Devi, 11.

By Corinne Woods

NEW DELHI, India, 25 May 2006 – Richa Devi, 11, is used to teaching the younger children in her school how to wash their hands properly. This week she had a new student, UNICEF Executive Board President Andrei Dapkiunas.

Richa and her fellow primary school pupils in Michwada village, Lalitpur district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, hosted a five-member delegation from the UNICEF Executive Board accompanied by the Secretary to the Executive Board.

The delegates from Belarus, Bangladesh, Colombia, Djibouti and the Netherlands took part in the trip as representatives of their regions. They visited the Michwada school as part of an eight-day mission to familiarize themselves with positive developments – and remaining challenges – in realizing the Millennium Development Goals in India.

A wealth of spirit

At the school, the delegation met parents and the children’s student government, visited classes using interactive teaching and learning materials provided by UNICEF and viewed the sanitation facilities.

“We are thrilled by the attendance at your wonderful school,” said Mr. Dapkiunas. “One of your parents was asking how this school differs from schools in our countries. Let me say that the will of the teachers and the students are similar. You may not have all the material goods, but what is most important is that you have a wonderful spirit.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: India
© UNICEF India/2006/Amudha
UNICEF Executive Board President Andrei Dapkiunas presents a recreation kit to the children of Rasoi School in Jhansi district, Madhya Pradesh, India.

The UNICEF group also visited an early childhood centre and households that have recently constructed toilets as part of the government’s Total Sanitation Campaign. Michwada was one of 800 villages – out of a total of 638,000 villages in India – to receive the Nirmal Gram Puraskar sanitation award from India’s President Abdul Kalam this year.

“This visit is about seeing what UNICEF and its partners do in the field to support the Government of India. It is interesting to see the high level of organization required in India to meet the challenges,” said Vice President Dirk-Jan Nieuwenhuis, representing Western Europe.

Earlier in the week, the delegates had met with education officials from Lalitpur district in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where 10 children are born every minute. They heard that the state government plans to take the Michwada village model of joyful learning, piloted by UNICEF, to 122,000 more schools across the state.

State Principal Secretary, Planning, V. Venkatachalam, committed to the delegation that the Government of Uttar Pradesh’s new 11th five-year plan will be truly ‘child friendly’.

‘Development from within’

The UNICEF Executive Board members spent most of their time in Uttar Pradesh, speaking to community leaders involved in village planning and child labour mitigation, and meeting district and state officials. Uttar Pradesh accounts for 25 per cent of India’s child mortality, is home to 20 per cent of its undernourished children and has the country’s lowest literacy rate. 

“Our greatest experience was the field visit to Lalitpur, where we saw the communities react with positive ideas,” said the Vice President Iftekhar A. Chowdhury, representing Asia. “Today in India the perception is very clear that development must come from within, and we have seen this in practice.”

The team – in particular, board members Martha Lucia Moreno, representing Latin America and the Caribbean, and Fathia Oudine, representing Africa – spent time with adolescent girls who have formed groups to encourage girls in their village to stay in school. They talked to girls who were teaching their mothers to read and who had prevented child marriages. 

On their return to New Delhi, the delegation met and discussed their observations with Indian Government officials, including Secretary Reva Nayyar, Ministry of Women and Child Development; Secretary Sunila Basant, Department of Drinking Water; Secretary Champak Chatterjee, Department of Elementary Education; and Additional Secretary S. Jalaja, Department of Family Welfare. Discussions were also held with members of the international donor community.

“We are open to seeing best practices,” Mr. Dapkiunas said at the end of the visit. “But at the same time we are just as interested in seeing the real challenges and getting a sense of them to take back to New York and inform our discussions with an increased understanding of the situation for children in India.”




25 May 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the visit of UNICEF Executive Board delegates to one of India's poorest regions.
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