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This Sarpanch Helps His Village Fight Malnutrition

The work of Mahendar Kumar Sharma, sarpanch of Matunda in Bundi, Rajasthan, inspired neighbouring villages to actively invest in health and nutrition services

In a heart-warming story about how a little help goes a long way, Mahendar Kumar Sharma, sarpanch of Matunda in Bundi, Rajasthan, explains how his attempt to remove malnutrition in his village has inspired other surrounding villages too.

“I always wanted to do something for my village and improve the lives of my fellow villagers,” says Sharma with a gleam in his eye. “I became a sarpanch because of my zeal to work for my village and improve lives of my people, but there was a lack of support or a guide to tell me how I can do perform my role better and how I can motivate other Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members and Front Line Workers (FLW) to work in coordination. Action Against Hunger filled that gap. I always took pride in my village but now I also take pride in the fact that I had a role to play in taking it forward. AAH has been a big support in my journey to become a more aware and active Sarpanch.”.

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Inspired by his first meeting with AAH representatives, Sharma held a Gram Panchayat meeting with the all FLWs to discuss health and nutrition, understand the gaps and how he could streamline service delivery through Village Health Sanitation Nutrition Day. Up till then the Village Health Sanitation Nutrition Committee was largely inactive, with no monitoring of services or feedback mechanism to address issues and challenges. Sharma took it upon himself to immediately change that. He started regular visits to the Anganwadi Centre (AWC) for surprise checks and, ensure services were being delivered. He also visited the homes of beneficiaries to check on new-born babies and their mother’s health. Believing that the men and elders of the family need to be sensitized on such issues, he regularly discusses the importance of nutrition and issues such as complementary feeding with them.

His pro-activeness garnered a lot of local media attention, encouraging neighbouring panchayats to start actively investing in health and nutrition services of their villages.

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Believing that the PRIs with decision-making powers and resources at their disposal can be leveraged to bring positive changes to the communities they serve, AAH designed an intervention to work with these institutions to facilitate change. Currently being implemented in Rajasthan, it will be replicated in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra soon. The objectives are to sensitize local governance authorities towards the issue of malnutrition, to discuss their roles in Poshan Abhiyaan to create Kuposhan Mukt Panchayats and to increase active participation of PRI members in generating a Jan Andolan towards nutrition.

The series of workshops focuses on providing information about various services provided through various platform on topics such as antenatal check-ups, optimal breastfeeding, complementary feeding, immunisation and vitamin A supplementation, growth monitoring supplementation, anaemia prevention in children, diet, deworming, food fortification, diarrhoea management, girls’ education, age of marriage for girls, safe drinking water, hygiene, and sanitation.

The meetings with PRI members, officials of health and WCD -ICDS department, and the local people helped identify the gaps in services and in the system. Theses interactions led to identifying causes of malnutrition, its treatment and prevention. They also defined the role of panchayats and the VHSNC in the eradication of malnutrition in villages and panchayats, and how their participation with the community could help in overcoming the issue. Nutrition is now a priority discussion in the monthly gram panchayat meetings.

These workshops have also helped PRI members link nutrition to the overall development of their villages. Sharma saw the linkages between child marriage and malnutrition in his village. His own mother was married off as a child and gave birth to children with very little gap between her pregnancies, leading to lifelong health issues. When he saw the pattern being repeated in his village, Sharma started holding awareness programmes against Child Marriage and helped the villagers to understand the various health implications of the practice still prevalent in Rajasthan. “I don’t do it alone; the whole community stands with me to work towards the development of the village. We will eradicate malnutrition from the village. Our work has only just begun,” he asserts.

(Drishti Chhibber is a Research and Content Development Officer and Binu Anand a National Team Leader of WeCan IPE Global. We Collaborate for Nutrition (WeCan) is a national level platform which aims to improve nutritional outcomes in India in alignment with the Government of India’s flagship programme- POSHAN Abhiyaan.)