Bankura women unite to wipe out hunger

Pictorial presentations against malnutrition in the local language are turning out to be a joyful learning experience for many

Ajitha Menon | June 13, 2014




There is an information revolution taking place in Chhatna block of Bankura district of West Bengal. Rural girls and women are coming forward to learn simple ways to tackle the critical issue of hunger and malnutrition that afflict their region.

When Asha Bauri, 30, of Anandabazar village was told by the local anganwadi worker that her son was underweight and suffered from malnutrition, she was clueless about how to tackle the situation. All her doubts and questions were resolved when volunteers of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), a local non-government organisation, gave her some pictorial cards that not only informed her of some of the locally available healthy food but also explained the right ways to cook them so that they retain their nutritive value.

“The pictorial cards show the food items and give step-by-step instructions on how to prepare them. I have been following all the guidelines to give my son healthier meals. He is now gradually gaining weight,” says Bauri, with a smile.   

As part of a special ‘Fight Hunger First Initiative’ being implemented by the DRCSC across 60 villages of Chhatna block, easy-to-understand messages related to nutrition, pre- and post-natal care, malnutrition in children and healthy food habits are being conveyed to the community through pictures, diagrams, graphs and charts in Bangla. In addition, flex banners and posters providing information on locally available food and the importance of hygiene, sanitation and safe drinking water, as well as literature on breastfeeding, sustainable agriculture, water conservation and the environment have also been prepared for their benefit.

According to Anirban Banerjee, project coordinator, DRCSC, illiteracy among rural women is common. So a pictorial representation of the messages with explanations in simple vernacular makes it easy for them to grasp and recall. Those who can read Bengali can follow the instructions while the others can absorb the messages with the help of pictures, which, incidentally, are related to their day-to-day activities. “We have found that these cards reduce the communication gap significantly,” he says.

Though Bankura’s female literacy rate is 60.1 percent, the majority of village women are class five drop-outs. For them, cards, flexes and posters that have drawings and pictures explaining matters related to nutrition, food, tips for lactating mothers and breastfeeding, etc., have proved to be helpful.
“Traditionally, in the community here, a baby is not breastfed by the mother immediately. But after we distributed the pamphlets on infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices, I have noted a significant behavioural change. Nowadays, mothers-in-law are insisting that the infant is breastfed without delay,” says Mandira Banerjee, field nutrition coordinator, DRCSC.

As per an article published in the Journal of Health Population and Nutrition in 2010, in Bankura district initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth was less common at only 13.6 percent but 57.1 percent infants aged less than six months were being exclusively breastfed. Early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for six months and timely introduction of age-appropriate complementary feeding are the key interventions to achieve the millennium development goals addressing child malnutrition.

The pamphlets, posters and cards, sponsored by Welthungerhilfe (WHH), have enabled Suryakanta Das of DRCSC’s education team to train youth groups, grassroots level workers and other volunteers in the villages who in turn, are able to achieve greater success in creating awareness. “In some ways these innovative information, education and communication (IEC) materials reinforce our commitment to the cause in the eyes of the volunteers and the target communities. They feel that so much effort would not have gone into planning, designing, printing and distributing this material had the messages not been of utmost importance,” she says.

Ajay Das, 40, is a village-level worker for DRCSC in Ghosergram gram panchayat. He says, “The leaflets on mother- and child-care practices are distributed not just among lactating women and their mothers-in-law but also to the male family members. They appreciate such IEC materials and try to follow the processes shown in them.”

The DRCSC has conducted a successful campaign to popularise a specialised nutrition supplement called ‘nutrimix’ with the help of descriptive IEC materials that teach women how to prepare the mix and then feed it to children between seven months and three years by preparing a paste made from the powder mixed with molasses, milk or plain water. The nutrimix contains carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

“I was told at the integrated child development services (ICDS) centre that my son was a ‘red’, or a severely malnourished child. I am giving him the nutrimix concoction to improve his weight and upper-arm circumference. By following the steps shown in the pamphlet, I make the powder myself by roasting and grinding various ingredients such as lentils, wheat flour, oil seeds, Bengal gram and pigeon peas,” says Jyotsna Mal, 27, of Siulipahari village. Laxmi Murmu, 38, an ICDS worker at Chhachanpur village, says, “Many mothers participated in the awareness generation programme on nutrimix and saw the demonstration on its preparation and took home the IEC material. This is a substantial supplement, it is easy to cook and tasty too. It is now being made and used by several women, who have malnourished children above the age of six months.”

The percentage of ‘red’ children in Jhunjka gram panchayat, as per the baseline tracking data gathered by the DRCSC in early 2014, was 19.95 (20) percent. A follow-up after two months has revealed that the figure is down to 13.4 percent, an indicator of the success of the pictorial campaign.
Today the district health and ICDS departments are contemplating using the IEC material developed by DRCSC to train their staff. Janani Mal, 45, of Benagoria village, who is an anganwadi helper, says, “I did not know that the local fruits and leafy vegetables have so many benefits. I have learnt a lot by going through the leaflets. I am trying to cook as per the instructions for my grandson.”

DRCSC’s Suryakanta Das points out that pictorial messages and regional language literature related to the Right to Education Act (RTE) — sustainable agriculture, water conservation and environment is also being distributed at the local schools. “They are being used as training and learning methods for 15 primary schools in the district. The pictorial cards make for a joyful learning.”

In a country where illiteracy is rampant, particularly among women, visual representation and use of the vernacular to send out messages to enhance the role of women as primary caregivers to children and the elderly can go a long way in closing the communication gap and increasing the understanding on these issues.

© Women’s Feature Service

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