Frontline workers – Inspiring men to become responsible fathers

Alka Gadgil
Two years ago, Government of India had launched Poshan Abhiyan (National Nutrition Mission) which provided an opportunity for making nutrition aspirational to the families and communities. Today, the Poshan Abhiyan has not only started showing results but has renewed the trust of the communities in the government schemes.

Core pillars of this mission rest on the components of Technology, Capacity Building, Behavioural Change Communication (BCC) and Convergence while laying special emphasis on the role of frontline workers. As a part of Jan Andolan (people’s movement) under BCC, events like Rashtriya Poshan Maah and Poshan Pakhwada which are organised every year, aim at mass community mobilisation and awareness generation. The events are driven by Anganwadi workers who are the “catalyst of change” in the community and are engaged in eliminating malnutrition among women and children. These Anganwadi workers are not only implementing the scheme with dedication but are challenging the patriarchal set-up of the society by holding men responsible for their child’s growth.

In Maharashtra’s Palghar district, Hema Purav who works at the Nargoli Anganwadi Centre is one among thousands of Anganwadi Worker who are willing to take that extra step to ensure that the programme is implemented as it has been planned. Today, she is changing lives with her efforts.
“When I had gone to see a newly born girl Shamlee in my area, who was just 5-days old, I had not expected her condition it to be this complicated. She weighed only 2 kg (weak born) and suffered from neonatal sepsis. She had an injured nose and she was also not able to open her eyes,” shared Hema who was alarmed by the child’s condition. That very moment she knew that Shamlee needed medical intervention and must be hospitalized.
She convinced Shamlee’s mother to take her to the hospital, however, it was her father, who refused to stay with her daughter in the hospital. ‘When Shamlee’s father started arguing with us, I told him clearly that I will have none of it. Fixing all the responsibility on to the mother is unfair and that he should attend the child in the hospital. When I ensured to get some financial help in lieu of loss of his daily wage, he agreed to stay put at the hospital with his wife,” explained Hema.

The local hospital was not able to treat all the complications and referred Shamlee to Nashik Civil Hospital. At this point, girl’s father yet again protested and said, ‘I won’t be able to spend two months in Nashik as I have to earn to survive.” This Anganwadi worker – a real ‘take charge’ kind of person told him clearly that he has to with the child and that she will arrange for the work.

Hema along with the child and her parents, set out for Nashik. She not only got Shamlee admitted but was also able to arrange for work for her father. While the father tended to work, the mother looked after her baby in the hospital. After prolonged treatment, Shamlee bounced back to life.

“I was adamant and was running away from my own child’s responsibilities. I thought child is the sole responsibility of a mother. But I didn’t realize that the mother alone won’t be able to tend to the baby. Father has to participate to ensure holistic development of the child,” shared Shamlee’s father who gives every credit for her child’s survival and his transformation to Hema. Efforts like these are helping government control its maternal and child mortality rate.

But the story doesn’t end here. Shamlee’s case went viral and an American citizen offered some financial help. He wired some money to a bank account created for the purpose to which Hema was a signatory. Shamlee’s father had an eye on the amount and when toilet usage was made mandatory under the Swachh Bharat Mission, he approached Hema and proposed to use the amount for building the toilet.

But Hema was clear that the money is for Shamlee’s higher education and should not to be used for building a toilet. The Gram Panchayat (GP) has a scheme for toilet construction. Hema helped Shamlee’s family get a subsidy for the construction of a toilet. The donation from the American remained intact in Shamlee’s bank account.

Besides, maternal and child related issues, Hema intervenes in all other development related matters. The Gram Panchayat, reckoning her leadership skills, seek Hema’s help in sensitizing people. She not just overlooks projects but involve villagers in the process so that they can have the sense of ownership in the development of the village.

There are many frontline workers like Hema who are working beyond their designated roles. It is about time that government should also take initiatives to fulfil the demands of all these workers who are at the frontline of not just receiving appreciation but are also the first ones to receive the backlash and violence from people when things go wrong. Right now, when most of us are safe in the comfort of our houses, these workers are out there risking their lives to support the government in the containment of this deadly virus. This pandemic can be a starting point where the safety of these workers, across states, must be treated as priority!