Dindori: At the local school ground, there was a pandal awash in bright yellow and red, its canopy decorated with colourful ribbons. At first glance, it looked like a wedding pavilion but inside there was a different kind of celebration going on. This was the venue of the Poshan Pakhwada celebrations in Nanashi village in Nashik district’s Dindori block. The Pakhwada was observed to mark the first anniversary of POSHAN Abhiyan, a flagship government programme to boost nutrition among children and women.
An enthusiastic voice blared from the loudspeaker: Ajaranna door thevuya, hirvya bhajya khauya (let’s keep away diseases by having green vegetables). The ever dependable women in white, pink and blue saris, the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM), anganwadi workers (AWW) and the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, respectively, were busy getting the day’s activities going. Posters on health, food and the nutritional needs of pregnant women were displayed prominently inside the pandal.
Primarily a tribal block, Dindori is home to Kokna and Mahadev Koli tribes, the original inhabitants of the region. Every year after monsoon, most families migrate for work either to brick kilns or to harvest grapes. When the families migrate, it’s usually the health of the women and children that takes a beating owing to poor living conditions and the lack of access to healthcare. “That’s why we need to work meticulously all through the year. With a migrating population, we need sustained efforts towards community engagement to ensure that the nutritional requirements of women and children are understood and met. We hold monthly meeting in the village and pregnant women are registered in their first trimester so that their progress can be monitored. Campaigns like the Poshan Pakhwada help us in consolidating the messaging around good health,” explained Savita Gawli, Anganwadi Supervisor-Beat 2, Nanashi.
Apart from dealing with the challenge of migration, health workers here are often up against traditional community practices as well. Nirmala Fuge, ANM, who was in-charge of the haemoglobin testing station at the Pakhwada pandal, where blood samples of school girls was being drawn and tested, shared how her watchfulness saved a mother and her newborn. “The woman and her family refused any medical attention but, with the help of the AWW, I kept an eye on how she was getting on. She delivered at home but the baby and she were critical. I went to her house and urged the family to reconsider their decision. I told them that without medical assistance the child would die,” she said. The young woman was too weak to protest and looking at the infant’s condition, the family also relented. After a month’s treatment at the civil hospital, the baby gained weight and bounced back to health. Today, the young adivasi woman helps the ANM, motivating other women to seek treatment.
Even as people were attending different demonstrations and events centred about wellbeing, hygiene, exclusive breastfeeding, immunisation, regular weight checks, anaemia screening, and so on, suddenly, there was a wave of excitement among the adolescent girls present. Unveiled at the pandal was a brand new sanitary pad vending machine. A long standing request, it was Nanashi panchyat’s Gram Sevak (panchayat revenue officer) M.P. Gavit, who facilitated the procurement of this much desired facility.
Although initially very few tribal girls had verbalised the need for sanitary napkins to be made available – according to Gawli, they are usually hesitant in demanding facilities – it was the AWW supervisor who had sensed their requirement and encouraged a handful of vocal girls to put forth the request with her support. They followed her lead and Gavit was able to procure a vending machine under Asmita Yojana, the state government’s scheme to provide affordable (subsidised) sanitary pads in rural area, rolled out on International Women’s Day in 2018. Installed in the anganwadi, the machine finally gives girls access to modestly priced sanitary pads—one napkin for Rs 2.
—Text by Alka Gadgil