Map of Mokhada
In 2005, 196 children died of malnutrition in Mokhada Block then under Thane District. A staggering figure that actually made the Government of Maharashtra (GoM) sit up and take notice. 196 is a lot of children – and all below the age of six. Something had to be done, fast. The GoM approached the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan ( CSW,NN) to intervene and address the issue of malnutrition in Mokhada. The College, true to its commitment towards society took this on as a challenge and began a field action project called AROEHAN in Mokhada. The College getting involved in this not only ensured planned intervention, but also gave them the opportunity to give students firsthand experience of working in an area like Mokhada.
Mokhada. Those unfortunate 196 children managed to put Mokhada on the map for us. Inhabited by 97% indigenous or tribal population, Mokhada was in the news for all the wrong reasons – large scale migration, water scarcity, malnutrition. Stepping into Mokhada was like going back in time – where people had limited or no access to basics like water, health care, food, roads, electricity. AROEHAN had a mammoth task at hand – all we knew at that time was that we needed to address the issue of malnutrition. Little did we know what we would end up doing.
We had to reach out to 59 Revenue Villages and 28 Gram Panchayat areas – a total of 228 villages and hamlets with a population of 77,319. Where and how should we start? Partnering with the ICDS ( Integrated Child Development Scheme) was the most logical thing to do. Along with this, we decided to conduct a Micro Planning (MP) exercise in all the villages of the area. MP is a participatory exercise that is conducted at the village level to facilitate people to identify their own issues and develop an action plan to deal with them. For this, we had to select and train youth from the villages to form a team of facilitators who would be actually conducting the exercises. Majority of these selected youth are today staff members of AROEHAN.
The MP exercise was the best thing that happened to us – not only did we get to visit each and every village and hamlet in the block, but we also got to understand the core issues of the area. We got to build relationships with people, we gradually began building an identity for ourselves.
The first few months spent in Mokhada were like a on field community organisation class. we went armed to combat malnutrition – but we in for a rude shock when the people of the area did not consider it as one of their core issues!
Water. Employment. Agricultural productivity. Access to health care. .. and then malnutrition – these were the core issues of the land. All inter-linked and inter dependant.
It was as if we were out to build toilets for the people without checking if there was any water to use in them!!
Social Work Lesson No 1: Participation of the people is key to any kind of sustainable development.
All we had to do was start a dialog, ask people, get them involved – it was only then that we truly understood Mokhada.
Our strategy needed to be altered. Yes, malnutrition was a pressing and serious issue – but we couldn’t look at it in isolation. It had to be looked at in its entirety – taking into consideration all the factors that affect it. It was then that we planned an integrated approach to address the identified issues in Mokhada. Our programmes needed to focus on Health, Governance, Livelihood, Water scarcity, Agricultural productivity and Education to ensure sustainable development in Mokhada.
And that is exactly what we did. With a dedicated team of two and the solid backing of the College of Social Work Nirmala Niketan, we set out on a mission. Today, 10 years later, registered as an independent organisation and with a staff of 40, AROEHAN has stayed true to its promise to the people of Mokhada – that of being facilitators and not implementers of change. To adapt to and learn from the land of Mokhada and its people.
Join us as we trace our decade long journey and reflect upon our failures and achievements. We promise you it’s going be an interesting trip!
Photograph by Tania Anderson.