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IKEA-supported training helps ‘hero’ at early-childhood centre in Assam, India

© UNICEF India/2009/Ferguson
Tarulata Saikia with one of the children at the ‘Anganwadi’ child development centre where she works in Assam, India.

By Sohini Roychowdhury

UNICEF has announced that the IKEA Social Initiative, a corporate philanthropic partner, is expanding its support for programmes in India. Here is a profile of a worker at one IKEA-supported project.

ASSAM, India, 2 March 2009 – Just off the main road of Athabari village, Tarulata Saikia sits in a small room decorated with brightly coloured posters of the Assamese alphabet. Ms. Saikia, 48, is a petite, soft-spoken worker at an ‘Anganwadi’ community child development centre. She has a remarkable story to tell.

Ms. Saikia became an Anganwadi worker for the State of Assam 25 years ago. “I was elated on being among the first few to be chosen from the state,” she recalls.

But in 1998, she discovered that she was suffering from Lymphatic Filariasis, commonly known as Elephantiasis, which is caused by mosquito bites and leads to severe enlargement of the lower limbs.

“I was afraid, because people with this condition can find their lives are ruined. Many cannot walk or work, and some become social pariahs simply because of the way they look” says Ms. Saikia. “The psychological and social stigma associated with the disease is more painful than anything else.”

‘A labour of love’
But Ms. Saikia persevered, overcoming her fears and embarrassment with the support of her neighbours. Today, she is regarded as a hero in her community. She tutors 42 children aged 6 months to 6 years in the centre every morning. The children learn, play games and have a hot meal before returning home in the afternoon.

“I’ve hand-painted most of the posters that adorn the Anganwadi centre walls. I’ve spent many nights poring over charts and drawings,” says Ms. Saikia. “This centre is a labour of love.”

Ms. Saikia was recognized by the state government for a maintaining a model Anganwadi centre – an honour she calls one of the “proudest moments” of her life.

“But my biggest rewards are when I meet my former students who continue to respect and love me,” she adds, listing the names of lawyers and engineers who spent their childhood years under her care. “I’m almost like a surrogate mother to them and their families.”

IKEA-supported health training
Ms. Saikia has also been trained in newborn and child health care; now she makes home visits to pregnant women in the community. 

© UNICEF India/2009/Ferguson
Ms. Saikia sits against an Anganwadi centre wall adorned with a few of her handmade charts and posters.

 “I counsel them on how to take care of themselves,” she says. “I also explain the danger signs and symptoms of pregnancy. To new mothers, I talk about simple things like handwashing, how to keep the baby warm and the importance of breastfeeding, among other things.”

The Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illness training that Ms. Saikia received is provided by the Government of Assam, with technical assistance from UNICEF and the IKEA Social Initiative.

According to Dr. Tulika Goswami of Dibrugarh Medical College, more than 1,000 doctors and Anganwadi workers have benefited from the training programme. “Before, many doctors were scared to even touch newborns. The situation has totally reversed.”

Ms. Saikia’s confidence is palpable. Hers has been a long and arduous journey from stigma to respect. Her story is emblematic of the difference health care providers are making in communities across India.



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