Why these kids now rush to anganwadi on their own

Metamorphosis of a child day care centre in a remote village in Aurangabad gives new joy and learning to children

Amol Bhilange and Arti M. Grover | July 7, 2022


#Anganwadi   #healthcare   #education   #rural development  
Kids enjoy learning at digitally equipped anganwadi of Wawna village (Photo courtesy: S M Sehgal Foundation)
Kids enjoy learning at digitally equipped anganwadi of Wawna village (Photo courtesy: S M Sehgal Foundation)

Few people would have heard of Wawna village in Maharashtra. Situated 20 km away from the sub-district headquarters Phulambri, and 50 km from the district headquarters in Aurangabad, Wawna panchayat is spread across 385 hectares. According to the 2011 census, the village has a total population of 1,110, which has now grown to 1,880. With 240 homes in the village, each with children, the government anganwadi centre has been witness to many children becoming the demographic dividend of our country.
 
According to the Women and Child Development Department, Maharashtra, the state houses 108,005 anganwadi / mini anganwadi centres. With more than 550 Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) projects being operational, the work force comprises of over 4,000 supervisors and about 2 lakh anganwadi workers/helpers and mini-anganwadi workers who drive the entire ICDS machinery from the grassroots level.

Suvarna Padmakar Sangave, 49-year-old anganwadi teacher, along with one helper has been taking care of the centre in gram panchayat Wawna for the last 28 years. Suvarna recalls the initial days when she was deputed at the centre as a young girl. Since then, she has undergone tremendous empowerment while serving in this role.

An important component of the ICDS programme operating in villages across India’s anganwadis are child day care centres started by the central government in 1975 to combat child hunger and malnutrition. The ICDS Scheme is one of the flagship programs of the Government and represents one of the world’s largest and unique programs for early childhood care and development. It is the foremost symbol of the country’s commitment to children and nursing mothers, as a response to the challenge of providing preschool non-formal education and breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition, morbidity, reduced learning capacity, and mortality. The beneficiaries under the scheme are children age 0-6 years, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.

S M Sehgal Foundation, a rural development NGO working in 11 states, carries out development interventions in water, agriculture, citizen participation, school transformation, and community outreach. Aimed at integrated rural development in villages, the Uttam Gram initiative carried out by the Foundation team drives development with community participation.

What is the Uttam Gram initiative?
In the Uttam Gram (exceptional village) initiative, various development activities undertaken by the Foundation team are being sustained in the selected villages by village development committees and gram panchayats. The Uttam Grams are good-practice, demonstration villages for motivating or guiding the local population and organizations that want to undertake activities to develop a village and sustain it through community participation and local institutions.

Wawna Anganwadi: Then and Now
Under the Uttam Gram initiative, the Foundation team saw the poor condition of the anganwadi centre in the village, coupled with irregular electricity, lack of basic amenities such as fan and lights, and bad floors and walls, etc. The team raised the issue in a meeting of the Village Development Council, a group of villagers who take lead roles in sustaining the interventions. The discussions led to making the anganwadi stimulating and also digitizing the setup. The renovation began in January 2022, marking a complete turnaround of the centre.
 
After the transformation, the anganwadi centre is brightly coloured with paintings based on the BaLA concept, which are enjoyed by the 45 children (15 boys and 30 girls) currently enrolled at the centre. The Smart Anganwadi Centre installation in collaboration with SELCO, Bangalore, uses a solar-powered system to run LED tube lights, television, tablets, and a fan installed in the centre. In addition, solar plates, batteries, and inverters run the system per the requirements of the centre. The centre is not dependent on electricity now, which means that the learning can go on unhindered. The tablet has a software to support educational materials designed in an interactive format with games and videos in Hindi and Marathi. The teacher can choose from any theme such as poems, alphabets, numbers, and names of animals, to run on the TV and make learning fun.

Suvarna says, “Enthusiasm among the children has increased since the renovation. With the introduction of digital education, the children come on time without being called and don’t even mention going home. Digital education has helped them to understand early. After the visit of the block development officer, anganwadi teachers from the other villages in the area also visit us and appreciate the digital anganwadi centre, so we feel like we are something special, and we are very happy.”

S M Sehgal Foundation principal lead, Local Participation and Sustainability, Dr. Vikas Jha, is proud of the visible difference that has come up in the centre because of the team’s effort. “The anganwadi centre has changed, and the number of children attending the centre has increased along with their stay time. Students, parents, and teachers are very happy, and people from other villages in the taluka are coming to see it. The children spend approximately three hours every day in the centre, and availability of interesting learning kits has made the centre enriching for children,” he states.

What do the parents say?

“My five-year-old daughter is studying in this anganwadi. In the past, she had to be forcibly taken to anganwadi; but since the beginning of digital education, she has been going to anganwadi on her own and does not want to come back. She can now say alphabets and numbers clearly,” says Surekha Sanjay Sonwane.

“Previously we used to take our daughter to anganwadi centre only to collect supplementary food; but after renovation, my daughter goes to anganwadi on her own every day. We have seen a lot of changes in her over the last few days, and see her learning new things each time,” says Pratibha Onkar Bhojane.

The Smart Aaganwadi initiative has made the centre an enjoyable place for playing and learning for children. This innovative way to engage children in learning can be one method of attaining the objective of preschool non-formal education, one of the targets set by the government. The digital setup can also be used to run videos and training modules on timely immunization, nutrition, and health for women and children, which can have a long-term impact in the village.

Amol is project associate, Aurangabad and Arti is senior program lead, Outreach for Development with S M Sehgal Foundation.

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