Malnutrition is a major global issue that affects India and results in various health-related complications. The lack of awareness about malnutrition and knowledge about sanitary hygiene practices, and limited access to nutritious foods, results in high malnutrition in India. Due to the limited knowledge regarding national nutrition programs to address these issues, the Government of India launched its flagship program, Poshan Abhiyaan, in 2018 to promote improved nutrition practices in rural communities, with special focus on women and children. The primary goal is to provide adequate nutrition for children and pregnant and lactating women by linking them with different nutrition programs, especially anganwadi services. September is National Nutrition Month in India under Poshan Abhiyaan with the objective of mobilizing and bolstering community participation to address the malnutrition among women and children with an emphasis on overall health and well-being of communities. The 2023 theme of Poshan Maah is “Nutrition-rich India, Educated India, and Empowered India.”
S M Sehgal Foundation, in collaboration with a CSR-supported project, has continued work on improving nutrition and sanitation in selected villages of Nuh since 2019. Women and adolescent girls (about 20) in each village are mobilized in groups and provided with monthly capacity-building sessions on aspects of nutrition and balanced diet, how to avoid malnutrition among women, adolescent girls, and children, the importance of kitchen nutri-gardens, among others.
These groups took an initiative to organise village-level gatherings that also led to a celebration, encouraging all the women in the village to take some time out from their daily routine and understand the importance of good health, nutrition, and education. The first event was organised in Government Middle School, Singalheri Village, Punhana Block on the sixth day of nutrition week, on September 6th. Women of Sihri and Sigalheri villages attended. Month-long events were also organised at Manuwas, Hasanpur, Kaliaka, and Uletha of Indri block in Nuh District.
The turnout of women in each of these village-level events was overwhelming. More than 100 women and adolescent girls came to each event. The events began with two short animated videos to educate participants through entertainment and make it a memorable experience. The first video explained the importance of different food groups, using pictorial representations and motion graphics that also addressed malnutrition cycle and related health issues. The video ended with suggestions to break the cycle. The second video was about superstitions that reduce the access of pregnant women, lactating women, and adolescent girls to nutritious food and balanced diet, and the issues they face . Traditionally girls are not allowed to consume various healthy foods while they are menstruating, which leads to anaemic undernourished adolescent girls and mothers. When lactating mothers are sick, they are not allowed to feed their children, which is harmful. If children only have mother’s milk till they are six months old, it is important for lactating mothers to have nutritious food.
These events were also a platform for different government officials to discuss schemes and programs to help villagers build a healthier lifestyle. Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, ANM, government primary and high school teachers, officials from Horticulture and Agriculture departments attended the events. An anganwadi worker, ASHA worker, and auxiliary nurse and midwife (ANM) discussed the importance of registering the names of pregnant women and children at anganwadis, the importance of immunization day, eating nutritious food, and taking prescribed medicines regularly.
Anganwadi workers provided some easy traditional recipes that can be prepared in daily life that will provide necessary nutrition. One was dalia khichdi, which can be made with dalia and whatever pulses are available at home. Other vegetables of choice, whatever is available in a kitchen nutri-garden, can be used. The process is very easy and only requires boiling everything until soft. Turmeric, salt, and other condiments can be used to increase the taste. Anganwadi workers also made the crowd aware of the high nutritious value of millet, and how the mixture of millet, pulses, sesame seeds, and sugar can be stored and consumed in different ways. Officials from Horticulture and Agriculture departments spread awareness about the importance of kitchen nutri-gardens and also about the nutritious value of millet. Different schemes under agriculture department were described in the events.
The events ended with an open discussion session. Seema in Kherli Deusa said, “In my home, women are still not supposed to eat much during pregnancy, I will now go home and make them understand.”
Sunita, a lactating mother, confessed, “I didn’t realise that making sure that the baby has milk for six months was so important. I never took it so seriously, these discussions today made me realise.”
In Manuwas village, Geeta was overwhelmed at the end of the session, she shared, “I was married off at an early age, had a child when I was still a minor; and today I have many health issues, just at age thirty. I would like to urge everyone present here to not make the same mistake with your daughters. I don’t have a daughter, I have a niece; and my sister and I have already planned her career, we want to see her earn in lakhs and marry only if she wants to.”
(Story by Sreeja Basu, assistant program lead, Local Participation and Sustainability)