Puducherry Anganwadi Worker Toils 33 Years For Community Development. Wins Plan India Impact Awards
The Anganwadi (child care center) in Puducherry’s Indiranagar makes for a pretty picture. The colorful walls are decorated with educational posters of fruits and vegetables, flowers, names of months and days, and more.
On one side, toys and learning tools are neatly stacked and the other corner appears to be the designated science section. It is a common sight to see at least 20 children or more there every day conversing with each other while the aroma of piping hot food fills the room.
The evident quality of infrastructure and management in this Anganwadi is unique compared to others across the state which are not similarly equipped. However, what makes this center special is one worker/teacher there – C Ambiga.
53-year-old Ambiga has been working as an Anganwadi teacher at this center since April 1989.
She has been a committed and dedicated person from a young age and has brought changes in children's lives and infrastructure facilities. Further, she has also ensured that the ICDS is implemented holistically across various Anganwadis in other villages apart from her own.
For her service, she has received many laurels from local politicians and residents. Recently she was also awarded the Best Anganwadi Worker by Plan India, -. a not-for-profit organization striving to advance children’s rights and equality for girls.
Caring and hardworking
Born and raised in Puducherry, Ambiga was 20 years old when she decided to join as an Anganwadi worker. She was only an SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) at the time, but was caring towards children and had the willingness to learn.
“When I got the posting, I knew I had to upskill myself to care for children. So, I completed a diploma course in early childcare services at a local community college. To do my job better, I also took up a Masters's course in correspondence from Annamalai University. Though I was unable to complete the course and get a degree, I learned a lot,” says Ambiga.
Her routine begins with waking up in the wee hours to prepare breakfast for her family – two daughters and her husband who recently retired as a government employee. As her family begins to eat, she quickly readies herself and leaves to the center.
“On most days, I do not eat breakfast at home and prefer the food provided at the center. It is important for me to be there before children arrive so that I can receive them,” says Ambiga.
At 9 AM, classes for the children start with learning the alphabet in English and Tamil. They do a little reading, writing, and even sing songs to learn new concepts. To make classes interesting, Ambiga and her assistants have created flashcards of fruits, vegetables, colors, and shapes.
However, this was no easy task and Ambiga needed the support of her community.
“Teaching students with visual aids help to absorb concepts better. But most times, we are not given a budget to procure extra items. So, I got creative. I spoke to a few clothing stores and tailoring shops to give us waste cardboard and cloth. This is cut into shapes, painted with colors, and used for visual aids,” says Ambiga adding that even parents, guardians, or siblings attend classes to make children feel comfortable at the center during their first visit.
Within a few days, the children begin to interact with others and get acclimated to the environment.
Going above and beyond
Ambiga’s responsibilities at the Anganwadi include teaching, providing nutritious food, ensuring on-time vaccinations, and conducting health camps for the children. But, she does not stop there.
Health camps conducted at the Anganwadi
Apart from conducting health camps, she conducts monthly meetings for parents. Here, she creates awareness about healthy food that must be consumed, hygiene habits that must be followed, and the importance of vaccinations.
“Apart from informing the parents about the vaccines their children must be given, I explain the benefits of each. Some parents are under the impression that vaccines and health boosters like Vitamin A shots must be given only during the first year after the child is born. But I tell them about the importance of ensuring health boosters until later years,” says Ambiga.
It does not end with only spreading awareness. Ambiga keeps a track of the children and their age to follow up with parents when health camps are undertaken. She conducts house visits or makes phone calls to the family and urges them to participate. Ambiga also keeps herself updated on central government schemes for women, especially pregnant women.
Meenakshi, a resident of Indiranagar, Puducherry, and a clerk at the National Rural Health Mission has been visiting Ambiga’s Anganwadi since the birth of her 2-year-old daughter – Divya Shree. Being the sole breadwinner of the family, Meenakshi has a lot on her plate while juggling work and her family.
However, the Anganwadi center has made childcare easier.
To date, her family has not missed a single update regarding vaccinations, nutritious food, or any childcare services offered at the center thanks to Ambiga.
She says, “I am unsure about how well other Anganwadi in my city are functioning, but I feel the Indiranagar center is the best. We receive timely calls from her to know about health camps being conducted as well as when nutritious food is being distributed. All the credits go to Ambiga who cares for all the children like they are her own. She also ensures we provide the best for our child.”
During the pandemic, though the Anganwadis were closed owing to the lockdowns, Ambiga worked round the clock. She would make posters stating precautionary measures to hang around the block, speak to parents to check on the children, and spread awareness about the importance of vaccinations.
Even a month ago, she convinced over 40 parents to get COVID-19 vaccinations and directed them to the nearest health centers. Ambiga’s efforts not only benefit the families visiting the Indiranagar Anganwadi but also the ones surrounding it.
Ambiga says that the days she spends at the center are the happiest. Her aim is not to work at the center, but to care for children and their families like her own. She believes that her job is a service to the community. And, it truly is!
Overall, all her initiatives and influences brought more success to the ICDS programs, ensured 100% enrollment at the center, and created lasting impacts on children's lives.