Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jan 07, 2007: Business Standard

Sreelatha Menon: Fighting hunger
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi January 07, 2007
Has Kalahandi finally cracked the code for combating undernourishment among its children below the age of three?

If so, then it is a miracle that is happening despite the special funds meant for KBK districts, which are making little difference to the levels of poverty in the district, and a comatose National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. This miracle strategy, called positive deviance (PD), introduced two years ago is the opposite of most ad hoc arrangements adopted by the governments in the name of health and education. Unlike poorly paid ad hoc teachers running schools in most low literacy states and the low paid anganwadi workers (Rs 1,000 a month) in the feeding centres run under Integrated Child Development Services, the cooking and feeding in PD is carried out by mothers themselves. Of course, the feeding happens in anganwadi centres and continues for a year for each targeted child.

In Vietnam, the method evolved by funders CARE, was to get mothers of healthy babies (positive deviants) to share their menus and feeding practices with mothers of feeble kids. It turned out that the PD mothers had been mixing easily available sea food with the rice they served. However, in Kalahandi no such sharing is on. The mothers merely came with vegetables and cooked together in the anganwadis and fed their chidren for two weeks every month.

They even contributed an egg every alternate week and shared it with another mother. Malnutrition rates for 2006 were 24 per cent, down from 31 per cent in 2004 and district authorities say the worst is over. In Utkela centre in Kesinga block, one-year-old Ritu Majhi was severely underweight six months ago. Today he is normal, even chubby.

But even in the midst of these interventions, there are signs of the future of these mostly Dalit and tribal children remaining unchanged. In tribal Pratappur village in Lanjigarh block of the district, there are barely 20 houses and almost all of them have ST families.

But the anganwadi worker is a Brahmin, Mamata Misra. In Udaipur anganwadi it is Urmila Sahu a non SC/ST. In fact in village after village, the only visible position of power, that of the anganwadi worker, is with the general category.

Sanghamitra Kanungo, who heads ICDS operations in Kalahandi, has been working in the district and neighbouring Koraput for the last two decades. She admits that only 20 per cent of posts are with ST and none with SC. Or no one will eat at the anganwadis, she says.

While discrimination keeps out SC, the qualification of eighth grade keeps out ST candidates. Tribal villages are mostly the tiny hamlets which have only a primary school and are cut off from most government facilities including roads and post offices reserved for dense villages. And unlike what the Planning Commission imagines, when it floats residential schools from class I, parents, even tribal ones, loathe to send children off to hostels from day one.

So these are the realities the tiny SC/ST villagers in Kalahandi will have to lump with the PD daliya.

Jan 04, 2007, Business Standard

SHGs: Kalahandi`s power puff women
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi January 05, 2007

As the sun set on 2006, Orissa’s Kalahandi district, known for hunger deaths, turned from a metaphor for starvation to a model for seeking solutions through community participation.

Amid interventions ranging from feeding babies to emergency feeding of the aged, the district has seen village and women power transform lives with the help of 700-odd women self-help groups under Mission Shakti.

The government last year handed over the entire public distribution system in the district to self-help groups. In return, it plans to target these women as part of its adult literacy and computer literacy campaigns.

By 2008, the district’s 50 child labour project schools will produce 172 women computer munshis for 86 self-help groups. “We are setting up a computer lab and a residential school at a cost of Rs 25 lakh for covering all self-help groups,” says District Collector NBS Rajput.

While the spoon-feeding drive, with the involvement of mothers, has seen the number of underweight children fall by 10 per cent, it is the handing over of the public distribution system to the SHGs that is sending ounces of energy into the villages, otherwise cut off from all trappings of development, be it a pucca house, electricity, or a transport link with the urban centres.

In Lanjigarh block office, a group of women wearing bright uniform polyester saris march to the office of the BDO and return to their village with bags of rice. They are members of a self-help group from a neighbouring village and have taken over the job of collection and supply of rice and kerosene to ration-card holders.

Majority of the PDS dealers in the district have been sent home for good. “This has been done all over the state in a partial manner, but in Kalahandi, we are planning to hand over the entire system to these women by February,” says Rajput.

In Balichoda village in Kaliyakundal gram panchayat in Junagarh block, the PDS group is as active as the mothers’ group. The latter cook and serve mid-day meals in all village schools.

Jamuna Khura and Kamadeini Nayak of Banadevi Mahila Mandal, a PDS group in Balichoda village show their storage facility, which is also their home. “We bring rice and kerosene in tractors,” says Jamuna. “The kerosene can has been leased out to the PDS group in the neighbouring village,” she adds.

Banadevi mandal's main activity is buying “fancy” from Raipur in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and sell it in nearby villages. The returns are meagre, but for a group of landless villagers who depend on migration and wage labour, they brings hope. Another SHG in the village which deals in fish has got the pond on lease from the district authorities. All the ponds in the district have been leased out to SHGs,” the collector says.

Mission Shakti has seen 755 women groups in the district getting empowered. The groups, leading a movement for total sanitation, are being trained to install toilets. “A beginning is being made with the houses of SHG members,” says Ashok Patnaik of the NGO, Kartavya, which is linked with many SHGs.

Rajput, who has taken Mission Shakti as his priority says, “Amid all short-term relief measures in the district, these women-led SHGs will in the long run take the district out of the blue.”