Bihali village is a small scenic hotspot situated in Melghat, a well-known tiger reserve of Maharashtra. Though endowed with scenic beauty, the area has been in the grip of malnutrition for long.
Hailing from the tribal community of Korku, known for its extremely high rates of malnutrition and infant mortality cases, Reshma Shankar Dhote, an anganwadi worker, has brought about unexpected changes in the deteriorating conditions of the people residing in the area.
Few know about the Korku, a tribe that is geographically and socially isolated, and barely have any access to basic amenities, such as medical care, sanitation and hygiene. Mothers still continue to suffer from chronic anaemia, and are nutritionally-deprived. Malnutrition among the Korku starts from the womb. Reshma came across as a savior to these people, giving them guidance and direction for a better future.
“Bihali is endowed with beauty,” says Reshma. “There are hills as well as the sea. The air that we breathe is pure. But we are struggling with malnutrition,” says Reshma.
Lack of awareness, frequent migrations, poverty, unemployment, prevalence of superstitions, and lack of communication have been cited as the reasons behind the plight of the people. Reshma focused on improving and uplifting the state of the pregnant woman, so that they produce healthy children.
“To resolve these issues I have undertaken lots of activities, well beyond my schedule at the center,” she says. She has focused on household visits, to motivate the community through counseling, nutrition rallies, meetings with teenage groups, cycle rallies, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) activities, “annaprashan” (or the first rice ceremony) and awareness of health issues of adolescents, lactating and pregnant women.
House-to-house visit was an important task she undertook to counsel pregnant women, too. She also engaged men and made them participate in the discussions. “I have involved all the villagers, including men and the elderly, even fathers-in-law, in this initiative,” she says. “That helped me to encourage them to feed nutritious food to their women,” says Dhote.
She has also brought several communities together, to participate in discussions on pre-delivery care, breastfeeding practices, and how to nurture children after birth, through audio- visual medium for better understanding.
Dhote has been organising nutrition festivals, bringing together a large number of households, to create awareness on nutrition-related issues. She has also taken up another key issue linked to nutrition—cleanliness—arranging cleanliness-campaigns on and off.
Her efforts have paid her off. There has been a significant decline in cases of women giving birth to low birth-weight babies. Dhote says, she feels proud when she sees healthy mothers giving birth to healthy children. Women, she says, are now more cautious about taking care of their health during pregnancy. And so are all the family members.
Dhote received the Outlook Poshan Awards 2019, for her being a Nutrition Warrior to her people.