Nurturing women and children

Nurturing women and children


Nurturing women and children

Grama Vikas Trust works with children, Dalits, shepherds, women labourers and other disadvantaged communities in over 200 remote villages of Kolar, Chikmagalurand Raichur districts, writes Pushpa Achanta 

“Caring for the health and nutrition of children in the 0-2 age group as well as women going through or emerging from pregnancy, especially from financially backward groups, will address many problems plaguing India. An important part of children’s physical, verbal, cognitive and other development occurs during that period.

Their mothers play a crucial role in their growth apart from ensuring the well-being of the family, community and country at large,” says M V N Rao, Executive Director, Grama Vikas Trust, an NGO that works with children, Dalits, kurubas (shepherds), women labourers and other disadvantaged communities in over 200 remote villages of Kolar, Chikmagalur and Raichur districts, to enhance their socio-econ­omic status.

How it began

Over three decades ago, the late N K A Iyer, who was actively involved in rural education and other social development projects in India, realised that marginalised communities in Kolar district (where he hailed from) lacked access to basic services and amenities such as anganwadis and medical centres.

So, in 1979, he initiated a children’s nutrition and health development programme in Honnsetthalli village in Mulbagal taluk.

Soon after, balwadis (children’s day care centres) providing nourishing meals) were set up to watch over the children of women agricultural labourers from socially excluded groups.

Girija M S, a Project Manager at Grama Vikas Trust revealed, “While interacting with the childrens’ mothers, Iyer found that women neglected their health, nutritional and other requirements. Further, they faced domestic violence from drunken husbands. So, he established this NGO, to reach out primarily to children and women in need.

“Along with child and maternal health programmes, we conduct youth clubs, children’s Gram Sabhas and motivate parents to join school development monitoring committees (SDMCs) in the three districts mentioned above.”

Fostering self-reliance

Those associated with the Grama Vikas (village development) Trust believe that “the battle against poverty can be successfully fought only when people learn to work together while thinking about and planning their own development through collective action.”

Consequently, the NGO began organising groups of women in the villages to enable them to run the child nutrition programmes.

As the mothers of children gathered at the balwadis regularly, they discussed the health and other issues of their children faced. These “mothers’ meetings” continued until late 1982 when the women, seeking financial empowerment through savings and credit, initiated four sanghas (collectives) with a total of 79 members in the seven villages of Mulbagal taluk.

The sanghas spread to more hamlets. A jatha (cultural activity) team comprising self-confident and articulate women drawn from 20 sanghas toured other villages, highlighting the significance of revamping water storage tanks. They also urged more women to form new self-help groups (SHGs).

“The women’s collectives formed with the Grama Vikas Trust’s backing began coordinating their activities by themselves from 1994 onwards. In 1997, they launched the Grameena Mahila Okkuta, a federation of sanghas which became an independent entity in 2002. It is among the well-known SHG federations of rural women in Karnataka,” said M S Jayalakshmi, the administrator and treasurer of the Okkuta, who has been a part of it since its inception.

Papamma and Shahina, from the Okkuta’s governing board added, “From being confined to labouring at home or on others’ fields and in the stone quarries nearby, we have progressed through mutual support. Each Okkuta member’s voluntary quarterly contribution has created a common fund which is utilised for child and women development programmes. We oppose child marriage, dowry, gender harassment, sex selective abortion and unlawful sand mining. We emphasise education and good health for girls and women. We also practise sustainable agriculture by using natural fertilisers, storing and exchanging seeds as well as encourage women’s participation in Panchayati Raj institutions.

“To guarantee effective service delivery, we partnered with the government to monitor the functioning of schools, hospitals, fair price shops and the granting of entitlements like entrepreneurial loans and land titles for women.”

The courageous and committed Okkuta women are often barely literate and economically deprived Dalits. They are about 7,000-strong across nearly 400 SHGs in around 200 villages in Mulbagal, Bangarpet, Srinivasapura and Kolar taluks of Kolar district.

“The villagers educate others through jathas and have initiated district level organic farmers’ networks. This is a heartening instance of leading by example, the essence of Grama Vikas Trust’s interventions everywhere,” Rao signed off.

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