Early childhood is a crucial phase of growth and development, the experiences of this age influence the outcomes across the entire course of an individual’s life. For all children, early childhood provides an important window of opportunity to prepare the foundation for life-long learning and participation. The experiences of children at this time deeply affect their physical, emotional, social, and cognitive abilities, among others, and set the course for prevention/ potential of delays in development or disabilities.
Anganwadi centers, working under ICDS schemes, cater to the challenge of providing good and easily accessible early childhood care, preschool education, nutrition, and healthcare options to children and mothers through counseling, immunization, and supply of medical, health, and nutritional resources. However, these Anganwadi centers- the backbone of our society, work with many limited resources and significant infrastructural challenges. Most of the Anganwadi Centres don’t have access to safe drinking water facilities, adequate space for accommodating children, or outside space for a play area. AWCs didn’t even have adequate Teaching-Learning materials or healthcare equipment. The functioning of AWCs was further deteriorated by the outbreak of COVID-19. Presently, there is a huge chasm between services and access to these services. Most of the children aged between 0 to 6 years, faced malnourishment, lack of safe and secure health and hygiene, and nutritious food, children aged 3 to 6 years had no access to early childhood education. This situation may get better in a while but its impact on children will stay for long. The AWWs, children, and women also faced psychological difficulties due to the COVID-19 lockdown, with behavioral change also being observed in children. In addition to all this, there are long-term challenges too- like lack of livelihood, unmet basic needs, and consequent health issues- that end up creating a vicious cycle of deprivation among the most vulnerable. Through all this, the health and nutritional status of children and women have become a primary concern as the number of malnourished children is increasing day by day. Despite shouldering a slew of responsibilities and being the lifeline of community outreach, the needs and requirements of AWWs and AWCs are not met.
The first step towards the holistic development of children and upliftment of rural areas is ensuring that the AWWs are supported by the means that help improve the outcome of their efforts. This is exactly where Cohesion Foundation Trust comes in. Under our project Wholesome Bachpan, since January 2020, CFT with support from HCL Foundation, try to provide all kinds of aid to the AWCs and AWWs of Bisrakh block, Noida, GB Nagar, UP to ensure a wholesome bachpan for children under our project area. CFT has planned interventions and put in efforts to transform AWCs of Bisrakh block into model AWCs, with the main focus on holistic development of children, mainly under ECCD programs while coordinating with the ICDS department of the district. We have been working directly with 26 AWCs, 2071 children, 1254 families, 6000+ community members, and 1103 AWWs of the district by building their capacity in various aspects of ECCD, and even providing them support and safety measures during the pandemic- indirectly reaching out to more than 10 lakh community members through the following interventions:
1. Child-friendly centers - All the Anganwadi centers under our project area have been revamped into child-friendly AWCs through tangible and intangible interventions like providing required equipment, swings, furniture and Teaching-Learning Materials (TLMs) needed for regular growth monitoring, development of children, and for making learning more effective and interesting. Identification and tracking of SAM/MAM children, and support provided to them according to individual needs.
2. Sensitization and capacity building of various stakeholders- Special emphasis has been given on building the capacity of FLWs, AWWs, and community members on various aspects of ECCD like health, nutrition, breastfeeding, regular monitoring of growth, immunization, developmental delays, ANC, child care, COVID precautions, Importance of first 1000 Days and more.
3. Bridging the learning gap- Due to the pandemic, AWCs were forced to shut down and have been since last year. This deprives young children of 3-6 years of their preschool education. To bridge this gap special video series and home-based learning kits have been developed and provided to children.
4. Inclusive AWCs – To assure that no child is left behind, our FLWs have started tracking and reaching out to children with disabilities as a part of a special survey drive which will help us plan intervention according to the individual needs. The transformation of 8 selected AWCs into physically accessible AWCs for children with disabilities is in the works. Training for FLWs has also been conducted to build their understanding of inclusion, inclusive AWC, developmental milestones, and early identification process. Training will be planned in the future for service providers and family members as well to make them understand how they can manage disability at the community and domestic level.
5. During COVID, Cohesion supported the frontline workers of 20 Anganwadi centers in collaboration with HCL and after a discussion with the DPO, ICDS Noida. Safety kits for 1103 Anganwadi workers and helpers of Noida, were provided. The kit included Gloves, Sanitizers (200 ml), and N95 Masks. A total of 4600 Gloves, 2500 Sanitizers, and 1500 Masks were distributed. We have covered 650 migrant families out of the total 1200 families. As the COVID situation got worse again in 2021, we established strong communication with the communities through calls. Our team was in regular touch with respective ICDS, their Health workers, and the Health Department at the village level and with the village heads. We have covered a total of 1200 families through telephone calls for -
• Tracking of ICDS services in the current scenario
• COVID awareness in the community
• Mapping of community needs (food, ration, livelihood, etc)
• Involvement of AWWs in resolving community concerns.
• AWW’s role in COVID survey
• Awareness about COVID Vaccine
IEC material has been distributed to all 1103 Anganwadi Centres at the District level which includes five COVID safety posters. Hygiene kits which include 60 reusable masks for children, sanitizers, hand wash, and a water dispenser have been distributed in 1103 AWWs.
6. 12 ICDS service registers have been provided to 1103 AWCs at the district level, which will help in the regular monitoring and tracking of all ICDS services and regular and correct maintenance of data.
Fruitful Impact of our efforts
The dedicated efforts under our project have made long strides in its impact on children, women, and community members. Physically attractive spaces improved TLMs, and awareness drives have significantly improved the enrolment numbers at the AWCs of our project areas, while regular growth monitoring, immunization, proper recording of data and documentation have helped improve the health and nutritional status of children. Homebased learning materials and videos have helped bridge the learning gap that has arisen due to the pandemic which enables children to continue their learning process from the safe atmosphere of their home even during this raging pandemic. Efforts to make everyday spaces like AWCs safe and accessible spaces for children with disabilities and COVID precaution activities have helped and equipped the AWWs and ICDS team to work more effectively in the communities during the pandemic. Counseling of family on various issues like livelihood, health, nutrition, COVID precautions, and vaccine, etc. have helped the families to deal a little better with the problems that they face on a daily basis. The functional area of our project also includes migrant workers and their families. The uncertain means of their livelihood renders them to a life of deprivation, where health, nutrition, and education take a back seat especially affecting women and the holistic development of children from migrant families. Under our project, we have been trying to identify these families and enroll them in AWCs so that they can avail the benefits of ICDS schemes. The inclusive approach of our project is helping us change the selected AWCs into physically accessible spaces, improve the ability of FLWs for working with children with disabilities, along with specially designed TLMs has brought faith to the parents of children with disabilities that their children can be included in day-to-day activities and become a productive part of the society in future. We aim to keep up our efforts in hopes of building not only a better future but also a better present for all.