Sustaining Goodearth - HERnetwork in remote Himalayan villages of Pindar valley, Kumaon

Posted in Village Ways Charitable Trust on Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Image: The Managing Trustee, Ratnamala Kapur and our Core Team along with the Master Trainers and Peer Health Educators smiling triumphantly after establishing the impactful - ‘Village Ways Trust Preventive Health Care’ in Pindar valley PHOTO CREDITS: DILAWAR KAPUR/ 19th Sept 2019

As we traversed up a difficult terrain to reach the Pindar valley, amidst the pouring rains, I kept wondering how the next day would roll out. A Closing Ceremony was planned for the community residing at over 1900 to 2200m altitude. With support from Goodearth , we had successfully delivered HERProject on Personal Hygiene, Nutrition and Menstrual Hygiene for a period of three years. We were now going back to the valley to share the evaluation results with the community and set in motion the plan for sustainability of our Preventive Health Care program. Weeks of preparations and meetings with key stakeholders at the village, panchayat and block level were carried out to arrive at a sustainability plan. The clouds slowly cleared up with the sun’s rays down the mountain slopes, changing the colour of the sky from grey to azure!

We had almost reached deeper into the Pindar valley. A local Kumoani woman, about forty-year old was walking up the road. On a whim, I just stopped her and asked her where she was from. She said, “Kilpara”.  Excited, I asked her if she remembered the peer health educator who came to her house. She nodded and simply said, ‘Paro!’ At first, I couldn’t place the name. On asking for her full name, she said,“Parwati  Arya!” On hearing this, I couldn’t help but swell with pride about the Trust’s foot soldiers. These villages were remote, difficult to reach, the network was poor and the weather unpredictable. It was against this backdrop, a random woman, I just met, from a remote village in the vast  Pindar valley  knew one of our Peer Health Educators and distinctly remembered the sessions on nutrition, personal hygiene and menstrual hygiene. This definitely meant something to us.

On the morning of the meeting, the sun shone through the greyish blue skies. Mahesh Takuli and Deepa Danu, our most trusted Project Coordinators facilitated the meeting to a packed gathering. All the 84 Peer Health Educators, Master Trainers, Gram Pradhans, ASHAs, Anganwadi Workers, community members from villages even as far as Khati, Bharakani and Waccham were present. By the time, the meeting began, a huge number of people had assembled. In such a rough terrain, this number alone throws the spotlight on the extent to which Village Ways Trust work had successfully penetrated.

Establishment of HERnetwork through twelve Master Trainers, 84 Peer Health Educators and 110 health committee members across 30 remote villages of Pindar valley, identifying critical health needs including personal hygiene, nutrition and menstrual hygiene, three rounds of peer health education to over  7000 people  were some of the highlights of the Phase III, Preventive Health Care Project across the  Pindar valley.

The impact assessment results were then shared with the community members. Key findings such as fewer percent of women reported weakness, cough and cold, diarrhoea and fever as reasons for absence from work, a greater percent of women reported that they regularly washed hands with soap and water and used sanitary pads or cloth pads to manage menstrual hygiene were emphasized.

It was a poignant moment as I sat in front of the community members, looking at their shining faces. I kept thinking, ‘Is it real or is it a fairy tale?’ It was wonderful to have triggered a change in their perception towards personal hygiene, nutrition and menstrual hygiene. I vividly remember how shocked I was, when the baseline report revealed that more than 50% of women used nothing to manage their menstrual hygiene.

 

Our Sustainability plan for the HERProject through integrating it into existing public health programmes in Pindar valley was then shared with the community members. It was evident from our prior conversations with the Block and Panchayat level officials, that reach of national health programmes to families were poor. Assistance could be in terms of networking, seeking any information, promotion of positive health behaviours, reinforcement of key hygiene messages, contact point for process of enrolment into any national health programme, availing of services or any follow up at the village, Panchayat or block level. In the following weeks, names and point persons across all the three levels would be disseminated through handouts stuck on the walls of each and every household reached by the Project. Emphasis was laid on the fact that the Trust would continue to exist and foray into their lives through facilitation of improved reach of public health programmes. To successfully implement this, prior meetings with key stakeholders including village representatives, gram pradhans and block level officials were held and a communication plan with Village Ways Trust was mutually developed.

To this, the community members instantly expressed their approval.It was evident that HERNetwork’s continued support was critical especially given the inherent challenges of remoteness and poor communication channels in the valley. The magnanimity of the master trainers and peer health educators as well as the health committee members was felicitated with Appreciation certificates and surprise gifts.Since the need was palpable, by the end of the meeting, I, Ratnamala Kapur, the Managing Trustee of Village Ways Charitable Trust came away convinced strongly that HERNetwork would continue to touch lives and make a difference in more ways than one to the marginalised communities living so high up in the remote valley of Pindar.

 

This is a blog written by Dr Tejaswi Balasundaram, the Project Head of Village Ways Charitable Trust. She is a Dental Surgeon with Post-Graduation in Public Health. She has over five years of work experience in experience in maternal and child health, preventive health care, WASH and school health programmes. In case of any queries, you can reach out to her at: tejaswib.villagewaystrust@gmail.com