Collaborating with Jan Swasthya Sehyong for early years nutrition, health and development

By Dr Smriti Pahwa, Head, Other Social Sectors, ASER Centre

In the blazing hot month of May last year, my colleague and I landed in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. The purpose of our visit was to learn more about the fabulous work of Jan Swasthya Sehyong, JSS, (www.jssbilaspur.org), had been doing; share the ASER-Pratham (www.asercentre.org, www.pratham.org ) efforts within the early childhood health, nutrition and development space, and to brainstorm a journey together, if feasible.

The near 24-hour train journey, a good part of which was spent sliced between the upper and lower berths of the three-tier seating, had left my younger colleague a little less chirpy than what he was when we started from New Delhi. I too struggled to pull myself together, given the fact that I am a mother of two and older than my colleague.  Although physically we were a bit drained, we were brimming with excitement to meet the JSS team.

We had heard so much about the good work the very-motivated doctors at JSS had been doing that our physical state did not dampen our excitement. Meeting the teams at JSS rejuvenated us.  After anchoring training sessions for the teams involved in young child programmes, we took to the field under 45 degree heat.

Sun warriors ready for the field under the scorching sun in Chhattisgarh

We almost looked like sun warriors with our faces covered to block the heat wave that seemed to be fighting for an entry into our eyes, noses, and lungs and bones!

What was amazing was observing team members practice the in-class training content in field and not take any short cuts and in many cases, even take extended sessions!

It’s been several months since that visit and distance has kept us from frequent face-to-face interactions as we would have liked. We resolved to overcome this challenge using technology.

JSS Team members using counseling cards, one of the KIRAN items, to talk to mothers about the importance of early years nutrition

The enthusiastic JSS program coordinator often got us all connected through Skype. Print as well as audio- visual material were shared with the JSS team over emails and drop box.  We decided to have at least two virtual connects with the entire team – once when the material was shared to orient the team on the same and once after the teams had used the material in community to hear their experience. To keep the momentum going we set up a WhatsApp group through which pictures of action on-ground were shared.

Sincere commitment and strong will have kept us going against all odds. JSS teams have been through three of the 10 KIRAN module themes so far. Hope this iron will grows stronger and firmer in the months to come.

ASER Centre’s KIRAN – Knowledge and Involvement for transforming Research into Action for Nutrition – is an effort to address the important early-year domains such as nutrition (food and feeding), health (immunization, basic health awareness, water and sanitation) and the different stages of development.  Parental awareness around these issues could go a long way in creating a healthy environment for children at home. Phulwari programme run by JSS aims to provide a crèche facility to all children (six months to 3 years) living in any of the programme villages that JSS serves. The programme supplies supplementary nutritional food, and conducts activities to boost cognitive development among children. The K.I.R.A.N methodology was to be explored to meet the need of engaging with mothers on early years nutrition, health and development issues. Spending a few days with JSS led to the mutual decision of using KIRAN material on early years nutrition, health and development as well as our experiences from training Pratham teams to integrate this dimension into the ongoing JSS Phulwari programme in two districts across all the JSS program villages.