By Vikas Jha
Nutrition month is celebrated in September every year to increase nutritional awareness for mothers, girls, pregnant and lactating mothers, and family members about vital nutritional behavior. A large number of activities focusing on awareness on nutrition are organized across the country by aaganwadi centers, schools, gram panchayats, and other stakeholders. Activities during Nutrition Month enable all stakeholders to develop and learn the tools of mobilization of communities, so they can continue through the year. Healthy nutrition behavior can be adopted by a community with regular awareness generation drives in the villages of India.
Organizing such programs in communities assumes importance in view of the fact that malnutrition in women and children continues to be a challenge despite good progress in the last decade. Per the National Family Health Survey 5, 35.5 percent of children below age five are stunted, and 32.1 percent are underweight in 2019–21; 67.1 percent of children 6–59 months are anemic; 57 percent of women 15–49 years are anemic; and 18.7 percent of women have a Body Mass Index below normal. At the same time, nearly 23 percent of men and women are obese. So promoting appropriate and nutritional behavior needs to be adopted at the grassroots.
Sehgal Foundation has actively taken up community awareness on nutrition through its community radio, Alfaz-e-Mewat, and provides grassroots awareness sessions in selected villages of five states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Maharashtra and Telangana, during the month of September.
A sixteen-episode special radio series Poshan Ghar (health homes), focusing on nutrition and health of children and women, healthy food habits, the importance of breastfeeding reaches out to 225 villages in Nuh district of Haryana. Nearly twenty nutrition champions are taking the message to communities by narrowcasting radio episodes. Awareness generation in fifteen schools has been done through games of poshan cards titled “Health Is Wealth,” which is a useful tool for engaging children through fun-loving activities.
In grassroots awareness sessions, women were mobilized by aaganwadi center workers and the Sehgal Foundation team. The women gathered at the center in significant numbers and prepared rangoli from the nutritious diet chart. The rangoli showcased vegetables, rice, wheat, fruits, milk, and eggs between beautiful colors on the floor. The ICDS worker explained the nutrition value of each item and a diet plan to be followed during the day. Gangotri Devi of Bardaha village, Karchhana block, Prayag Raj district, Uttar Pradesh shared that she learned about the importance of green vegetables, milk, and a balanced diet in the program, and she will follow these food practices in her family. Ram Kali Devi, village Ajna, Samastipur district, Bihar, says that they have made rangoli with vegetables from a kitchen garden with food grains, fruits, milk, and eggs for the first time in their lives. She enjoyed it a lot, and it was a great learning experience for other women. The gram panchayat members and men were also present in the meeting, as they are critical agents in influencing healthy nutrition behaviors in the families. The teachers from local schools also took part enthusiastically in some locations.
Women were motivated to grow vegetables in the nutrition vegetable garden at the back of their homes, so that they do not have to purchase the vegetables every day. Sehgal Foundation promotes nutrition gardens in hundreds of households in rural India by distributing vegetable garden kits to women. Each kit contains the seeds of ten nutritious vegetables. Several women, realizing the benefits of vegetables, have started growing vegetables in their backyard.
At the end of the awareness session, women took the pledge that they will follow the nutritious diet chart and convince their family members and neighbors to do the same.
The tools of nutrition awareness, such as radio episodes, poshan cards, and making rangolis of nutritious diet, are shared with women community leaders living in nearby villages, thereby reaching more villagers. Aaganwadi workers can also use these tools to generate awareness of the forty or so women whose children come to the center every day. Through the process, nutrition change agents in the villages are prepared to be very effective in addressing malnutrition in the villages.
(Vikas is principal lead, Local Participation and Sustainability at S M Sehgal Foundation)