Milk Bank for Vanvasi children by Sewa Bharati activists in Ranchi
Fighting malnutrition with a difference
With 44 per cent underweight children, India faces the severe level of child malnutrition in the world. One in three of the world’s malnourished children live here only. It is the disease which not only limits child’s development and capacity to learn, but also costs lives—around 50 per cent of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition. About 46 per cent of the children below the age of three years are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted. It is the state of affairs despite the government launching many schemes to fight it. In this situation the method adopted by Sewa Bharati activists in Ranchi to fight malnutrition has attracted many. Involving about 170 women of the city they formed a Milk Bank to feed milk to over 300 rural Vanvasi children everyday. Instead of offering the mid-day meal, which proved to be ‘mid-day murder meal’ in certain cases, this initiative by Sewa Bharati activists has drawn a good response from one and all.
Malnutrition has emerged as a major child killer in our country. It is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF, one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India and at least 44 per cent children are underweight. Malnutrition for young children has serious and long-term consequences, because it impedes motor, sensory, cognitive, social and emotional development. Their immune system remains weaker, leaving them more vulnerable to disease. For instance, they are five times more likely to die from diarrhea. Poor nutrition is also associated with nearly half of the deaths for children under five years (about 3.1 million) each year.
Inadequate care of women and girls, especially during pregnancy, results in low- birth weight babies. Nearly 30 per cent of all newborns have a low birth weight, making them vulnerable to further malnutrition and disease. The future of rural India, where the highest concentration of poverty prevails, depends upon overcoming the challenges causing it. To counter the trend, the Government of India started many schemes under the banner of Integrated Child Development Services, but the picture on the ground is still disturbing.
In this situation the Sewa Bharati activists in Ranchi started a unique initiative to fight malnutrition. Instead of offering any mid-day meal they provide cow milk to the children studying upto 5th standard. The work began in 2012 by forming a group of 17 women. Today, there are 170 women in this group and the number is growing everyday. Around 300 children studying in Saraswati Shishu Mandir at Jonha are provided around 100 mg milk everyday during the lunch break. They belong to 20 villages, mostly situated near the famous Jonha Fall. The milk is taken from a goushala run by Birsa Sewa Prakalpa. This group of women has pledged to feed milk to at least 1000 children by the end of this financial year.
The idea of feeding milk to school children studying up to 5th standard clicked to Rashtriya Sewa Bharati joint general secretary Shri Gurusharan Prasad, when he visited Birsa Sewa Prakalp goushala last year. The entire milk of the goushala was then sold in the market. When he proposed to stop the sale of milk and provide it to the school children, the first question raised by the activists was how to meet the espenses of the goushala. But the remedy to the question was suggested by some activists only who proposed to involve some women of the city and collect some amount in the form of gousewa. Finally, the Vatsalya Dugdha Yojna was launched and the responsibility to take up the cause ahead was entrusted to Manjusha Deshpande, an activist. She has worked hard to develop 10 groups having ten members in each group.
“In the beginning we focused on Satellite Colony of Ranchi and a good number of women joined us in the endeavour. Then women from many different colonies started joining us. The annual fee for this group has been fixed Rs 300. This amount is provided to the goushala, which provides milk for the children. Now we have owned up the expenses of the goushala and in turn the goushala has owned the responsibility of providing milk to the children without fail. The response is so overwhelming that the women from many other colonies including Rashmirathi Apartment, Ganesh Apartment, Tirupati Mansion, Himalaya Apartment, Nivaranpur Jaishree Apartment, Court Sarai Road, Haramu Housing Colony etc. are also joining the groups. “The biggest benefit of the scheme is that the goushala gets adequate money to meet its daily expenses and the children also get milk daily without fail,” says Manjusha Deshpande, convener of the Vatsalya Dugdha Yojna.
“Malnutrition cannot be fought through lip service. It needs sound and sincere work on the ground. Since the level of malnutrition is very high in rural areas, we found it inappropriate to provide mid-day meal to the school children. There is no parallel of milk in fighting the deficiencies in human body. It is complete food, especially when it comes from a desi cow. That is why we have focused on it. All the cows in the goushala are of indigenous breed and the milk provided by them is rich with all necessary vitamins,” said Shri Gurusharan Prasad, adding that the scheme has proved a big hit and there are plans to start it at the state level.
Apart from providing milk to the school children, the members of the Dugdha Yojna have also started providing lunch to the patients in Ranchi government hospital. They provide around 100 tiffins to prominently the child patients every day. “In the evening the tiffins are supplied to 100 families and they are collected at around 10 am every day along with rupees five per tiffin. The amount collected with the tiffin basically helps in meeting the expenses of the workers engaged in their transportation and distribution, etc. The amount is deposited in the Sewa Bharati account. “By and large both these projects are self-reliant. We hope to form a group of around 1000 women for this project also,” added Shri Gurusharan Prasad.
“Though, we have not conducted any scientific study, anyone can see the good impact of the scheme in the form of improved health of all the children. Not only us, the parents of the kids too see this improvement,” added Manjusha Deshpande.
At the time when the government efforts at fighting malnutrition are not drawing the desired results, this initiative by Sewa Bharati activists in Vanvasi region can prove to be an eye opener for the policymakers and other voluntary organisations, which are seriously fighting against malnutrition.