Basumati Mallik and Harapriya Nayak have many things in common. Both are anganwadi workers (AWWs) and are engaged in Phiringia block of Phulbani district in the hinterland of Odisha where development still moves at a snail’s pace.
However, there is a striking difference between the two women. Basumati is young yet reserved and withdrawn. Harapriya is about twice her age but comes across as confident and diligent. What separates their attitude is how their perception of functioning has changed.
In the dusty Masiripada village under Ratanga gram panchayat, about 22 km from Phulbani town, problems are one too many for Basumati to handle.
Most of the maternal, newborn, child health and nutrition (MNCHN) programmes of the Government are existent on paper but there is a lot to achieve at the ground level.
The mini angangwadi centre at Masiripada has 18 children in the age group of three to six years enrolled but just 10 manage to report on a daily basis. “We have to provide dry ration to the rest eight on monthly basis,” says Basumati.
Besides, the children have to travel to a neighbouring village for immunisation. That’s not all. The village health plan for the current year is yet to be prepared.
For Harapriya, who looks after Dangarpada village having a population of 375, day-to-day functioning is a lot more organised. Children are inquisitive about the food that is served at the anganwadi centre.
All the six programmes under Integrated Child Development Scheme run more or less smoothly as women have participated in the policy and decision making process increasingly of late.
“It is about changing the mindset and bringing the villagers on board. The locals have been particular about preparing the Village Health Plan and keeping a tab on the implementation and outcomes,” says Harishankar Rout, who heads SWATI, an NGO working on the programmes in Phulbani district.
Not that everything is perfect about Dangarpada where about 98 children cannot come to the anganwadi centre because of distance and government cannot set up an additional centre because their number must be 150 to have one.
However, there has been positive changes.
A survey by Save The Children, which works in Kandhamal and Nuapada, reveals significant differences in terms of delivery of MNCHN services through improvement in knowledge and perceptions about problems, availability of services from medical professionals, community based health workers.
It has been possible by creating an enabling environment by building capacity of frontline health workers and their supervisors for effective delivery of the interventions coupled with health awareness and accountability, the report said.