Phulwari: Rural Crèches
Under nutrition is perhaps the biggest problem that we face in Chhattisgarh. It leads to increased chances of falling ill and sometimes dying due to it. It has been consistently shown that under nutrition- both severe and non severe is the underlying cause for over 50% of the mortality in children under five. When under nutrition occurs in early childhood it also leads to poor intellectual development, which is likely to have its effect throughout one’s life. Under nourished children grow into under nourished adults who have poor work capacity that affects their earning capacity, thus keeping them in a poverty trap. Undernourished girls who grow into weak mothers give birth to under weight babies, thus maintaining the vicious cycle of poverty and ill health.
In order to address the problem of under nutrition in children, we have started a programme of setting up of “Phulwari” which is aimed to provide a crèche facility to all children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years at the village level wherein supplementary nutritional food plus overall development inputs would be provided. The Phulwari would be run by a volunteer woman who is selected by the community. Assuming that 10% of the population is between 6 months and 3 years of age, in our programme population of about 27000, we expect 2700 children to be in crèches.
How a Crèche is Run
The crèches are run by women of the village with one woman for every ten children. Some villages have more than one crèche, and some crèches have up to 30 children with three women running the crèche together. The crèche co-ordinators are given some orientation training on the basics of health and hygiene, and how to run the crèche. During their monthly meetings the functioning of the crèche is reviewed, supplies are replenished and some health teaching is done.
Children are given one cooked meal and two snacks of a high protein-high energy mixture called “sattu” during the five to six hours that they are in the crèche. This is prepared by women’s groups in one cluster of villages, and is purchased by JSS for distribution to the crèches. More recently, children in the crèches are being provided with an egg on two days a week. Crèches have also been provided with toys to stimulate learning. However, our early child education initiatives need strengthening.
The response to the crèches has been largely positive, and parents feel that it answers one of their main needs – that of child care – when they have to go out to work. With the implementation of the NREGA, the demand for crèches has increased. Timing of the crèche varies as per the requirement of the community: in summer when NREGA work begins at 4 am to avoid the heat of midday, the crèche starts functioning at that time. Women with very young children return to the crèche twice a day to breast feed their children.
Most villagers prefer to leave their children behind in the village in the custody of a woman they trust, in a safe environment, where food and water are available. They say that they cannot take their children to the worksite as most often there is no shelter there, or it is under a plastic sheet that heats up during the day. Water is often in short supply, and the children are in danger of getting injured if not closely supervised. The earth work that is often done generates a lot of dust, which they don’t want to expose their children to.
Many parents have seen that children who start complementary foods in the crèche after six months do not fall ill and do well, and have started giving supplementary food at home as well.
Several children who had dropped out of school for sibling care have returned to school after the crèche facility has been made available in their village.