Sherri Le Mottee writes: Last week’s visit in India was quite sobering. After a colourful and hopeful time in the country, Kushku (my travel companion kindly ‘loaned’ to me by the Ministry of Women and Child Development) and I visited three Anganwadi centres in the urban slums of Mumbai.
Here, we were met by a number of Anganwadi supervisors outside a large apartment block and ushered inside through quantities of waste on the streets and even at the entrance to the building. The programme on offer was facilitated in a rather derelict small room, the children, who were seated on the floor, sang song after song. After an hour a guy arrived with two packets of Laddus (a sweet meat of popped rice coated in jaggery) and a large tin of soft cooked lentils for lunch.
As the children sat eating, Kushku and I left to visit the next centre where we met and talked with a group of young women who were either pregnant or had small babies, sitting between them were a number of the children who attend the Anganwadi centres. While some women did not attend weekly meetings, they did collect iron supplements offered to women via the programme as well as the monthly food ration. A young mother of two children (14 months and 1 month) said the programme was a real support to her as a young mom. She had learnt about nutrition and breastfeeding and attended the weekly meetings.
From here, we moved out of the flatland into what can only be described as a kind of maze or rabbit warren, where we were taken down side alleys and through passageways to get to a small apartment where a number of children sat waiting in the dark for them (the lights had been out all day).
The poverty level was as overwhelming as the smells of the raw sewerage. Yet here was life, people were busy, small businesses were operating, children were out and about, many off to school. What was clear to me though is that, the quality of services we offer children cannot be compromised and while the architecture of the system is magnificent, my sense is that the outcomes of the programmes are significantly compromised by a number of things, including inadequate training of practitioners, insufficient learning support materials in the centres, no learning support curriculum, and no real quality management of the sites.
I however remain sold on the mechanism that is currently in place to reach children, pregnant women and mothers. It’s all there! It just has to be enhanced and strengthened. As we move toward building systems in South Africa that reach every child, every mother and every pregnant women with a focus on 0% malnutrition and stunting and 100% opportunity for stimulation and learning, we can learn a lot from what has been done and what has not been done yet in India.