Working Together to Improve Local Programs
Sehgal Foundation has worked in six villages in the Mewat region of Haryana, India on issues of rural governance. Rural government is often wrought with high levels of inefficiency and corruption. The Foundation has been working to educate villagers about their rights and how they can work with local authorities to ensure their needs are met. Villagers have learned how to determine what is being mismanaged in their local government and are developing the skills to fix these problems.
On October 2nd 1975, the Indian government launched the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program. The program was created to improve the health and wellbeing of children 0-6 years of age. It provides a package of services that include supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, and health education. It also provides children below 6 years and pregnant or nursing women between the ages of 15-45 years with informal education. The program has been launched across the state of Haryana and is available in all community blocks.
The program selects women from local communities to serve as honorary workers of the ICDS program. These women are called Anganwadi Workers (AWW). One AWW will be selected for every 1000 people in a village. Anganwadi Centers (AWCs) are responsible for the provision of all services that come under the ICDS program. Many AWCs are disorganized and inefficiently run. This means that women and children in these communities are often not provided with many of the program’s services.
During their work in Mewat on rural governance, Sehgal Foundation taught trainees about the ICDS program. This training empowered villagers to contact officials to improve the functioning of their local AWCs.
The village of Agon in Mewat has a population of 4000 and three AWCs. All three AWCs became defunct in the last 2 months. The centers were left in a deplorable condition with cigarette butts sprawled across the floor and beetle nut spit stains covering the walls. According to locals, “Men play cards and smoke in the AWCs.”
A number of villagers that participated in Sehgal Foundation’s rural governance (RG) training came together to try and reopen the AWCs in Agon. Brijmohan, a local farmer with great passion for grassroots action, led the group. They began by making a formal complaint to the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) and the Project Officer (PO), but nobody responded. Next, they held a meeting with AWC workers, and helpers and beneficiaries of ICDS. AWC workers announced that they were not receiving any funding from ICDS to purchase and provide service goods. Unsurprisingly, the AWC beneficiaries then explained that they weren’t receiving any goods or services from the program. A few beneficiaries were even unaware of what goods they were entitled to. Shocked by their findings, Brijmohan said, “It is the support of Sehgal Foundation that has prompted me to move further and fight for our rights.”
RG trainees determined from the meeting that a lack funds on the local level was responsible for the failure of the ICDS program in Agon. They sent a complaint letter to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and to the Supreme Court for Right to Food. The NCPCR asked the District Administration to look into the matter and prepare a report on the condition of the ICDS in Agon. The Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), CDPO and Tehsildar (revenue administration officer) acted immediately.
The CDPO delivered ration to the Anganwadi centers in Agon immediately. A Tehsildar visited the village and spoke with the villagers. The authorities were impressed by the community resolve to improve the local AGCs. Brijmohan was asked to sign the report for the NCPCR. He refused to sign unless they reopened and improved the condition of the local AWCs. Together, the RG trainees in Agon managed to get authorities focused on reopening and improving their AWCs.
RG trainees in the village of Ghaghas took similar steps to revive their AWCs. Sehgal Foundation hopes that as more villagers become empowered with rural governance training, they will work to improve their local AWCs. Well run AWCs will enable the ICDS program goals of improving children’s health and wellbeing to be fulfilled.
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