Our dream came true when Sachetjiji voluntarily shouldered the responsibility of changing in the nutrition and health status of their family and communities. That meant, people in and around three blocks of Madhya Pradesh—Ranapur in Jhabua, Rajpur in Barwani and Khaknar in Burhanpur districts—where she was a Sachetjiji.
Around 415 women with leadership quality from 188 villages in the three blocks of MP were trained on different issues of health and nutrition by CHETNA, or the Centre for Health, Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness, set up as an NGO in 1980 at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. In partnership with Transform Rural India Foundation (TRIF), it trained Self-Help Group (SHG) members, bringing multi-sectorial expertise in livelihood, nutrition, health and governance in one platform, to enable change in the most vulnerable and marginalised communities. The women who took leadership in facilitating sessions and encouraged other members of their SHG to join, were our “Sachetjijis.” The journey faced several roadblocks initially, which cleared out along the way.
Money was not the incentive for Sachetjiji, hence the first step of motivating these women to participate, was challenging. CHETNA overcame this, by introducing the concept of “Three Banks,” based on the traditional thinking process: the Money Bank, the Social Bank and the Spiritual Bank. Money Bank meant financial growth for the benefit of children and family; Social Bank helped to earn societal appreciation, reputation and respect. The Spiritual Bank catered to the inner spiritual journey. Discussion around these thoughts helped Sachetjijis to look into their role from a different framework and thus initiated their journey of empowerment. “Merely offering prayers, or reciting verses or singing hymns will not swell our Spiritual Bank account. Spreading goodness and contributing in improving the lives of others is the deposit we need, to swell our own Spiritual Bank account,” said a Sachetjiji from Khaknar.
The training of Sachetjijis started with gender equality and nutrition. Within a few months of its completion, positive stories of change from these villages started reaching us. This change came to life, due to the quality of training facilitated by skilful trainers, in a non-threatening environment, in acceptable and simple language with relatable references. For example, comparison of two major life events—marriage and child birth—was done to explain the importance of nutrition and care during pregnancy and lactation, none of which were usually done in the communities. In marriage, preparations, they were shown how important it was to initiate arrangements six months earlier: from planning the finance, food, transport of the newlyweds to their accommodation. Similarly birth of a healthy baby required similar preparation. This comparison generated a lot of interest. Learning about care during pregnancy and lactation became easy and acceptable.
Simple actions, without involving any major financial strain, created ripple effect at the village level. The concept of “Tirangi Thali” helped Sachetjiji to learn about the nutrient-rich foods in their platter. To add green colour to their Thali, Sachetjiji created “Poshan Vatikai”—vegetable gardens, next to their homes, individually or jointly with the SHG members.
A Sachetjiji of Bobalwadi village of Rajpur block, developed a joint vegetable garden, owned jointly by the members of the SHGs. The members got involved in sowing, watering, weeding and providing organic manure to the vegetable plants, by rotation. They grew a range of colourful vegetables: brinjals, okra, spinach, tomatoes and coriander. The vegetables were distributed amongst the members involved in taking care of the garden. Today there are roughly more than 400 vegetable gardens of different sizes in these villages.
In Daiyat village of Khaknar Block, Sachetjiji came to know that in her village there are 10 underweight children. These children were from poor families and parents were not ready to spend 14 days at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) of the state, as they could not afford to let go off their daily wage. Sachetjijis, held meetings with villagers and motivated them to provide nutrition by seeking donations from the village. They were able to collect Rs 8000 in cash from the village, so that the children could receive eggs, milk and bananas every day for three months. And, the children started showing weight-gain soon.
Emphasis on importance of cooking in iron vessels during the training, as an action to prevent anaemia has created immediate action at village women level. The women, went to the market collectively, bargained with shopkeeper and bought iron vessels. The families who had replaced iron vessel with aluminium, brought back the iron vessels in their kitchen. More than 600 women bought iron vessels from local market.
In all the three blocks, women have started attending gram sabha and raising issues related to nutrition and health. As a result, actions are taken. They are repairing the anganwadi centres, filling up vacant posts of doctors and nurses at Primary Health Centres, making health and nutrition services accessible to the most marginalised families, living on the periphery of the villages.
Sachetjijies support each other to resolve challenges at the family and community level. CHETNA team members are providing mentoring support to overcome their hurdles. The movement of empowerment is initiated, we are confident that with the involvement of more women taking up the role of a Sachetjiji, it would indeed help transform more and more villages toward vibrancy, all by themselves.
(Pallavi Patel is a trained nutritionist, with over 35 years of experience. She is Director and Founding Member of CHETNA.
Bhanu Makwana, an expert in rural development, has been working as a trainer for more than 20 years.)