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Balwadies
Through a crisis, strongly
- with inputs from Rama, Kesamma and Leader Narsimlu
 

After going through a crisis in 1996, the balwadies of DDS have sprung back into action once again. The crisis in 1996 taught them how to cope with the absence of funding. And also a way to look for strengthening themselves in such a way that no stoppage of funding can affect either their nutritional or teaching programme.

During the one year of absence of funding, the members of sanghams supported the balwadies in a variety of ways:

  • Each member contributed one potful of grain per month
  • Each member contributed five rupees per month
  • Each mother of the balwadi going child contributed Rs.15 per month alongside what other members contributed
  • All those sangham members who were getting benefitted through DDS schemes contributed in various ways
  • PDS participants contributed Rs.50 per acre of their land under PDS
  • Land Lease participants contributed 5 kgs per quintal of the produce they harvested
  • SC Corporation land beneficiaries also contributed 5 kgs for every quintal they harvested



Balwadi Grain Contribution
at Village Khasimpur

Through such string of sacrifices the DDS sangham women ran their balwadies for an entire year.

In 1997, the Bernard von Leer Foundation funded the balwadies and there have been a resurgence in balwadi activities. A total of 25 balwadies are functioning now in full scale in the following villages:

  • Algole
  • Basantpur
  • Bardipur
  • Boppanpally
  • Cheelamamidi
  • Chilukapally
  • Dhanwar
  • Edakulapally
  • Eedulapally
  • Ganeshpur
  • Gangwar
  • Kalmela
  • Kamalpally
  • Khasimpur
  • Krishnapur
  • Machnoor
  • Mamidigi
  • Matoor
  • Metlakunta
  • Mortega
  • Pastapur
  • Potpalli
  • Ranjhol
  • Rechintal
  • Sangapur

It is a matter of pride that the balwadies are being supervised by two children who grew with DDS in the last decade : Kesamma and Leader Narsimlu. They work for the programme with dedication and understanding. This is very heartening.

As usual the balwadi is a combination of creative learning environment and nutrition input consisting of the local foods. The balwadi food regime runs as follows:

Breakfast
Lunch
Snack
Finger Millet porridge (twice a week)
Jowar roti with dal & vegetables (twice a week)
Roasted chickpea (all days of the week)
Wheat porridge
(twice a week)
Rice Khichdi with pulses & vegetables(twice a week)
Fruits
(once a week)
Jowar porridge
(twice a week)
Wheat Khichdi
(twice a week)
Eggs
(once a fortnight)

In an exciting study done by our KVK scientist Ms Salome on traditional recipes, our belief that the peoples food was as nutritious as the Government food was more than confirmed through this study.


In order to meet the costs of running this nutritional programme, DDS has made endowments of agricultural lands to the following balwadies:

Algole 5 acres
Basantpur 5 acres
Boppanpally 7 acres
Cheelamamidi 2.75 acres
Edakulapally 5 acres
Eedulapally 5 acres
Kamalpally 5 acres
Kalmela 8 acres
Krishnapur 3 acres
Kuppanagar 5 acres
Machnoor 5 acres
Pastapur 2.5 acres
Potpally 5 acres
Pyalaram 6 acres
Sangapur 3 acres
Yelgoi 5 acres

 



Pigeon pea harvest
in a balwadi land

While thinking of this action to support sanghams we had calculated standard yields for a five acre land and concluded that such a plot should be able to suffice the requirement of a balwadi. But repeated failures of monsoons have thrown a damp squib on our enthusiasm and expectations. But from the poor women we work with, we have learnt resilience and undeterred optimism in the face of hardships. We continue to hope that this experiment would succeed and would at one time or other make the balwadies food-self sufficient.

The community contribution continues to give the balwadis basic support from the community that it badly needs. As usual each member pays Rs.5 and a potful of grain every month. Each mother pays Rs.10 per month alongside her contribution as a sangham member.

Prof Anandalaxmi, the renowned educationist who visited our programme recently remarked in her report:

.... a handful of grain every time some cooking is done in the house would be put in a pot, which at the end of the month would be given to the Balwadi. This made a fairly substantial contribution to the children's health, also giving the word "community" its proper connotation.

The most commendable aspect of the Balwadi programme under the DDS was that the community "owned" it and therefore took responsibility for it....not only offering free labour and working collectively but also selecting the Balwadi workers and ensuring accountability was the task of the women in the community.

Since sustainability is always a concern of all funding agencies including the Government, the model developed by DDS deserves close consideration.

The early DDS balwadis were concentrating on slightly older children in the age group of 4-6 years. In recent times, there has been a shift towards younger children in the age group 2-4. The present training system of balwadi teachers, we realise is inadequate to meet the early childhood requirements. Our concentration in the year 1999 will be to equip ourselves to this task.

Jatras

The Balwadi staff spent a major part of 1998 in conducting a series of Children's Fairs locally known as Jatras. There were three jatras at three centres : Metlakunta, Jharasangam and Machnoor. Each jatra was attended by approximately two hundred and fifty children from eight balwadies.

The children played, danced, sang, painted and ate together. It was a never-before experience for these children to come into an environment which offered them total freedom and total joy. The annual children's fairs will be a continuing pattern of our balwadies.



Child narrates a story
at a balwadi jatra

Training


The balwadi teachers come together every month for a training. Ms P V Rama one of the most experienced teachers in the DDS Green School is their trainer. The balwadi teachers training is gradually turning into a self - managed activity. The teachers divide themselves into groups of 6-8 persons and share with each other their previous month's work report. They discuss whether they have covered the previous months work plan, problems they encountered, children's attendance etc. This ends up in a group discussion and all the sub groups report their discussion to the large group which then decides the next month's topic and activities.

The teachers then divide themselves into sub groups and discuss in greater detail activities like Oral and Writing work, Songs and Stories, Games and Arts etc. Then again all the groups come together for a final discussion and formulation of the plan for the next month.



A teacher shows crop charts

A special committee of teachers selected each month is entrusted with the responsibility of bringing out the Balwadi magazine, The Balwadi Patrika. These teachers meet with each of the teachers in the training during the evenings and collect from them stories, riddles, songs, reports, drawings etc. This is later edited into a monthly balwadi magazine. All the teachers also get together to prepare more teaching material like card games etc.

Such a self-inputting training process has not only democratised the training process but has also increased the self confidence of teachers.


ICDS Programme

With the introduction of the ICDS programme in our part of the district we are facing a new dilemma. When the government has come up with a programme of its own, what shall we do ? There were three options :

  • Close down our balwadies and send the children to their anganwadis
  • Not close down our balwadis and run it like before
  • Collaborate with the government and create a facilities and cost sharing experiment.

On this issue we had several consultations with our sangham members, leaders and balwadi committee members. Their opinion was unanimous:

  • We will not close down our balwadis.

But what should be the strategy and why are they not closing down their balwadies? We reminded them that in running their balwadies they are going through an enormous amount of sacrifice :

  • They are paying a contribution of Rs.5 per month
  • They are contributing a potful of grain every month which is equivalent of Rs.6 to 10 depending on what grain they contribute
  • The mothers have to pay a monthly fee of Rs.10
  • All members contribute free labour of upto five days in a year.
  • The Balwadi Committee members contribute one day of free labour to collect ration every month in addition to all the above contributions.

In contrast, the government anganwadies came free of cost. Therefore our question was, why would they prefer to continue their own balwadies ?

The issue for the sangham members was simple. It was a question of control. In the government programme, they had no control whatsoever, or at least that was how they perceived their role in government anganwadis. While they perceived their own balwadies as the place which was under their total control. Therefore come what may, they were insistent on retaining their own balwadies.

Therefore the balwadies are likely to continue. As a place where the dalit women can exercise control over the well being of their young children. A place which they can shape as their own.

Balwadi programme is funded by Bernard von Leer Foundation, Netherlands