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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where learning is great fun...

A kitchen garden, an elaborate handwashing routine and the award-winning dedication of a worker to ECE makes the anganwadi in Dhandha village near Palanpur a role-model for others of its kind

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Success Stories in Early Childhood Education Gujarat 2012 by UNICEF, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and GCERT

“First, we wet our hands. Then we use the soap. We rub the soap on each finger. We take special care of the nails. And then we wash all the soap off rigorously with water.” It’s a dry run for the handwashing routine that will start soon, says anganwadi worker, Parulben Nagaria. She likes the children to do it in the form of an action sequence in class. “This way, they have more fun and get habituated to wash their hands,” says Parulben, who initiated this routine at the anganwadi in Dhandha village near Palanpur after she attended UNICEF’s training program for anganwadi workers in September 2011. 

A boy washes his hands thoroughly before a meal at Dhandha anganwadi as Champaben Jadav, the helper, asks the other children to wait for their turn in a queue. 

Twenty-six children queue up near a bucket. Helper Champaben Jadav doles out mugs of water with which the children wash their hands. “Look how diligently they are washing their hands. Even we adults do not take such care to clean our nails every time we wash,” observes Ritaben K Patel, the anganwadi’s supervisor.  
This simple task of handwashing is an important part of the lives of the children who come to the anganwadi. The drill helps them understand that washing their hands will prevent germs and dirt from getting into their mouths and, in turn, prevent them from falling sick. Some children have even ensured their parents wash their hands before they sit down to eat.

“This has been my biggest achievement. In each one of the 205 anganwadis I oversee, I have seen to it that the children have made handwashing a habit,” says a proud Shashiben Brahmabhatt, the block’s Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), who started this initiative after she attended a training program in June 2011. 

Creating a ‘model’ anganwadi

With its innovative ways of teaching, fun-filled activities (that include dancing to children’s songs that are played on a DVD player), use of painted walls as activity boards for children and a garden that grows onions, lauki (round bottle-gourds) and arvi (colocasia), Dhandha’s anganwadi has become a model for others in Banaskantha district. 

But it wasn’t always like this.  “Earlier, we did not know what to do. I have been an anganwadi worker for nine years. The children would just come here, eat and then go away. Somewhere down the line, even I lost my interest in teaching,” says Parulben. 

Children enjoy their time at the anganwadi

In June 2011, she attended a training program on Early Childhood Education (ECE). It changed her outlook towards her work. “I learnt why ECE is important, how the kit should be used and why cleanliness is essential in bringing more children to the anganwadi,” shares Parulben, who holds a Master’s degree in Gujarati.

Mentored, facilitated and monitored by the State ECE Consultant, Parulben and Supervisor Ritaben have created a child-friendly learning atmosphere in the anganwadi. She uses puppets from UNICEF’s ECE kit and enacts the stories for the children. She also gets them to participate in group activities, where they play with building blocks, toys and memory cards or thread boards. 

Anganwadi worker Parulben Nagaria uses illustrations in books to teach the children

She strictly follows a timetable. Meals are now served on time and on clean stainless steel plates. There is a separate provision for drinking water. The idea of using a ladle for the water came from an anganwadi worker from Surajpura village who Parulben met at the training program. Parulben and her helper, Champaben, also see to it that the newly-tiled toilet is cleaned regularly and that children throw chocolate wrappers into a dustbin made out of a jerry-can.

New ideas, new learning ways

Painted walls are used as activity charts
What sets Dhandha’s Anganwadi No 2 apart from the rest of its kind is the innovation that has been put into the process of learning. Parulben uses the books not only to narrate the stories but also to create her own. She uses a combination of poetry, dance and puppets so that children can actively participate in the storytelling process. Parulben says that she has picked up these ideas from the Anganwadi Workers’ Module, which has been prepared by UNICEF and which she has been trained to use. 

In order to allow all the children to play with puppets at the same time, Ritaben suggests that she will get a village tailor to stitch puppets that are similar to those in the UNICEF kit. 

While the children have their activity books and toys to help them develop their brain and motor skills, the anganwadi worker has also devised a way to enhance their senses. She has created a ‘scent box’ that contains vials of spices such as variyali (fennel), lavang (clove), elaichi (cardomom) and gulab (rose). A similar ‘taste box’ contains sugar (sweet), salt, and mango/tamarind powder (sour) to help children distinguish the tastes. She says they still have not managed to find a ‘bitter-tasting powder’. Shashiben, the CDPO, suggests they could use methi (fenugreek) powder.

Turning parents into participants

The main reason for the anganwadi’s quick turnaround over the last few months has been the involvement of the community, especially that of the parents who send their children here. 

When Ritaben came up with the idea of painting the walls of the anganwadi, following her interaction with State ECE Consultant Dr Jigisha Shastri, she was initially cagey about asking the parents for money. But her fears were misplaced and they happily contributed the required Rs 2500 to create a bright, colorful place for their children. 

Next, when she wanted to get identity cards for each child, she once again went to the parents for help. “Each card costs Rs 12. The parents told me, ‘Don’t worry, we will give it you’,” she says adding that the parents also contributed for the files the anganwadi maintains on the children’s activities. 

The villagers also took pride in re-doing the place. One person put racks on the wall to create storage space for the files. Another provided two chairs and two tables. A third person paid for the utensils and others contributed to the binding of the books. 

The most recent contribution has been in the form of a DVD player. “I’ve been asking them to put a DVD player for the past six months. But they couldn’t find a donor. Then somebody gifted me a player, recently. I thought I may as well put it here so that it can be used regularly and the children can enjoy themselves,” says tailor Bharat Hirabhai, whose four-year-old son, Harshil, goes to the anganwadi. “Now that we have the DVD, we’ll also get a TV!” In fact, Parulben has already started advising the children to limit the number of hours they spend in front of the television. 

The parents actively participate in the anganwadi’s affairs. They track their children’s progress records and attend parent meetings regularly. 

When Parulben was awarded for her work in the anganwadi, many of the parents took time off from their schedules to congratulate her.

To make things even better

When State Right to Education consultant, Dr Ankita Sharma visited the anganwadi along with Hetal K Patel, District Education and ECE consultant, she was taken in by the commitment of the worker, the helper (she takes on the functions of the anganwadi worker and keeps the center running when the latter has to attend meetings), the CDPO and the supervisor towards education. 

Children play with toys provided in the ECE kit

The children, who only a year back were malnourished and disinterested, have now become healthy, confident and are eager to learn. Dr Sharma notes that greater participation of the parents by attending meetings regularly at the anganwadi will further benefit the children. Shashiben also points out that the anganwadi needs to be supplied with four to five liters of milk everyday. This, the village Sarpanch, Ramilaben Varecha, has agreed to provide for. She says, “For the development of the village, the development of the anganwadi is a must!”

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