1 April 2010
By B Sridhar
Chakradharpur (West Singbhum), India
…and why the authoritative medical journal, Lancet, has praised a unique project
TRIBAL TRIUMPH: Volunteers at an awareness campKusnopur is a hamlet in the area and it is a transformed place. As are some other villages in this mineral–rich district. Indkata, Dengsorgi and Landupoda are also in the grip of a quiet – and happy – revolution. Fewer newborn babies are dying. How has this happened?
Through an extraordinary training project for local tribal women. Prasanta Tripathy runs the NGO Ekjut, which facilitated the training. He says “there is a 45% reduction in neonatal mortality rate as well as a change in practices related to child–rearing. There is also a 57% reduction in postnatal depression.” It’s been a hard slog – for the NGO and its volunteers, and the tribal women. Aantri Koda, 28, of Balundi village, was one of the early trainees. She recounts how hard it was: “When I joined the NGO for training, my husband asked me to concentrate on household chores rather than become a neta. However, my sister in–law persuaded him to let me join, citing her own suffering during pregnancy.”
There was resistance from village elders too. Mother–of–two Kulsum Sundi, 33, recalls the gram pradhan opposing volunteers who wanted to assist her when she was pregnant. “He said that they are polluting the culture of our village by carrying semi–naked pictures of pregnant women.”
Tripathy says they stress on “participation, learning and action – the ingredients in the making of an empowered mother and healthy baby.”
The NGO started with 20 women in three villages around Chakradharpur six years ago. By now, it has 20,000 trained women, spread across more than a thousand villages in Jharkhand and Orissa.
Sumitra Gagrai, Ekjut group coordinator, says the core of the revolution was the community spirit unleashed, when trained female volunteers fanned out across remote villages “to encourage adolescent girls and married women to find practical solutions for good health during the pre and post pregnancy period.”
It was a success and praised as such by ‘The Lancet’, the authoritative British medical journal.