Since one week, Anushka, a migrant labourer working at a construction site in Dhanas takes some time out from her work around noon and walks towards the outer periphery of the construction site, as her youngest son, Gunjan, trails her with an empty dolu clutched in his tiny fist. “We come here to secure at least one good meal for ourselves,” says Anushka, referring to the makeshift anganwadi shed at the edge of the construction compound, where a mobile anganwadi van parks itself every day, except Sundays.
Many young mothers like Anushka, adolescent girls and children from the construction site flock to the anganwadi shed at noon everyday since the UT administration launched two new mobile anganwadi vans or “Poshan on Wheels” on November 27. The concept was initiated by the administration to cater to children of migrant labourers in the city, who were unable to access anganwadis facilities earlier. Three such vans cater to more than 400 children and women in the city.
“A lot of these children could not leave their home to attend school or go to anganwadis. Moreover, the nature of their parents’ work is so unstable, they keep moving from one place to another and hence, do not receive adequate and sustained care under the ICDS programmes,” says Sarita Godwani, a consultant for Capacity Building and Behaviour Change for ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ in Chandigarh.
Under the Integrated Child Development Services, frontline health workers and community mobilisers provide services such as nutritional food, preschool education, immunisation, health checkups and developmental monitoring of children. Launched in 2018, ‘Poshan Abhiyaan’ or the National Nutrition Mission is implemented in conjunction with the existing ICDS mechanisms to tackle severe malnutrition and stunting of children in India.
The two mobile anganwadi vans flagged off by the UT government focuses on fulfilling nutritional outcomes of extremely disadvantaged groups such as migrant labourers. The nutritional consultant for Poshan Abhiyan, Ravish Grewal points at the bloated belly of an otherwise petite three-year-old boy at the construction site and says, “There are so many severely malnourished children here, who have been completely neglected. These are the children we really have to focus our attention to.”
The van begins its journey at 9 am from the Paryavaran Bhawan, after which it goes to the Dhanas construction site to serve them a breakfast snack, which is usually ‘murmura’, before going off to a kitchen nearby to pick up freshly prepared food for lunch. There is a menu for each week, which includes dishes like kadhi rice, halwa, khichdi, sweet dalia and ghiya chana dal.
“In most places in India, the focus is on feeding carbohydrate rich food or merely khichdi to the children in anganwadis, but in Chandigarh we are now focusing on protein rich meal. We have also started providing milk, eggs and bananas to children in 40 anganwadis in the city,” says Grewal.
“We incentivise the children to be hygienic. We tell them, we will provide food once they wash their hands, comb their hair and come to the shed. This way we inculcate sanitary habits in the children,” says Kalpana, the Child Development Project Office under whose jurisdiction the Dhanas construction site falls. Apart from providing basic nutrition, angwanwadi workers are meant to impart basic pre-primary education, counsel young mothers and adolescent girls on reproductive health and conduct regular checkups for children under the age of six.
The bright pink anganwadi van, which is plastered with instructions on maternal healthcare, also gives directives on identifying and tackling anemia. “Along with nutrition, we also want to concentrate on the anemia epidemic is in this area. Especially in young mothers and adolescent girls, who then transfer it to their children in the future,” says Godwani, the consultant for ‘Poshan Abhiyan’.
According to the National Family Health Survey of 2015-16, about 75.9 per cent women in Chandigarh are anemic, which is much more than the national average of about 50 per cent anemic women. The data on anemic children is also as disconcerting, since 73 per cent children aged between 6 and 59 months suffer from anemia in the UT. “We make sure to test for anemia regularly. We have hemoglobin meters for this purpose. After this, we provide iron and folic acid tablets to these women, but a lot of them refuse to take them due to the side effects,” explains Godwani.
One of the major side effects of the iron and folic acid supplements is nausea, which demotivates pregnant women from taking them, who are often prone to experience nausea during pregnancy. “I have been anemic for a while, since I had my last child. When I was in Chhattisgarh, I used to get tablets, but here I have not been able to take them because we keep moving around,” says Anushka, the daily wage labourer employed at the site.
Since the van has began making rounds at the site, Anushka feels she can approach anganwadi workers to secure folic acid tablets along with basic nutrition for her son. “I do not know if I can send Gunjan to school yet, but at least we can both come here to eat kadhi chawal on Mondays,” adds Anushka, before heading back to the site to work.