Focus on a Nutrition Success Story

Nutrition Centers for Pregnant and Lactating Women

During this Nutrition Month, sharing a good practice..

The criticality of proper nutrition for pregnant and lactating women is undisputed. Equally undisputed is that their nutritional status in India is extremely worrisome. Of course the government through its Anganwadi program does supply day rations for this stage of life. But in the field, what we found was that these rations were taken home, added to the general pool of foodstuffs in the household, and consumed by all. So probably the men or the children ended up getting a little more food, but very little extra went to the target women. It was not considered at all OK for the daughter-in-law of the house to keep aside the rations that she had received for herself! So in reality, these pregnant women got very little supplementary nutrition.

Based on some state government experiences, we at GMR Varalakshmi Foundation decided to reverse the equation. Rather than the food going to homes, we thought it might work if the women came to the food. We set up small community-based Nutrition Centers which pregnant/lactating women could easily access. They had to come into the Centers at a certain fixed time every day for about half an hour. We worked out a menu of supplementary nutrition in discussion with an eminent national institution working on the subject. The menu was not a complete meal but a list of items worked out to plug the commonly found gaps in this group. Some criteria we had was that it should involve minimum cooking, and should to the extent possible, be based on seasonally available local foods. Women coming to the Centers continue to avail the Anganwaadi rations.

So women come to our centers every day and it is like a little kitty party. They eat the snack, chat together, share notes on their pregnancy.  There are organized activities—from a talk by a health worker on immunization and family spacing, to games related to food, nutrition and childcare, to screening of films on health, sanitation, etc. Records are kept of their weight, hemoglobin, and doctor advice. Special care is paid to vulnerable cases.

The Centers have been in operation for almost a decade now, and have almost 100% track record of institutional deliveries and of baby weight above 2.5 kg. And the cost? The snack costs Rs. 15 per woman per day. And the program is for 12 months for each member—from roughly 3rd month of pregnancy to 6th month after delivery, with home delivery of the food during the weeks when the mother is not able to come to the Center. That is a cost of about Rs. 5500 per woman for ensuring her health and to lay the foundation for a healthy life for a baby. Extremely scalable for organizations. Not difficult even for individuals to support.

There may be many, many other such simple ideas tried by innovative NGOs and others across the country. The key is to share, learn and multiply the good practices!

–Meena

Teacher Teacher   

My father-in-law will be 96 years old this month. He trained as an artist, but spent his career teaching machine drawing in a government polytechnic. He has now been retired for more years than he taught a subject that he was not passionate about. But what he was passionate about was reaching out to his students, not driven by any great philosophy or mission, but his innately sociable and open personality.  Even today, he gets phone calls from his old (literally—some are 75 years and over!) students, just for them to say that they remember him fondly. Till a couple of years ago he clearly remembered names and attributes of so many of his students. It is that life force which continues to energize him even today.

The word Teacher itself is loaded with so much meaning. After all teachers were the key players in the long drama of one’s school (and college) life, with distinct characters, roles and parts. As a part of the student audience, and at times, minor characters in the crowd scenes, we spent a great deal of time and emotion on ‘adoring’, ‘hating’, ‘fearing’, ‘hero worshipping’,  ‘imitating’, or ‘buttering up’ our teachers.

Teachers were a necessary evil that dominated every ‘period’ of our school days.­­­­­­­­­­­ It is when we were older (and perhaps a wee bit wiser) that we could look back with nostalgia and remember those teachers. This was also when we realized the lasting impressions and influences that different teachers had left on us. Not all of these were related to the subject they taught. More often, it was how they taught, or what they said and did, or even what they wore, and how they behaved. We could now see these as individuals with distinct personalities and persuasions. For some of us, the older we get, the more sentimental we get. And Teachers Day, celebrated in India on 5 September, revives many such memories.

In the good old school days, the run up to T-Day was exciting. This was the day that the tables were turned, as it were. It was the one day when students turned into teachers! This was how Teachers Day was celebrated in many schools.

This year for the first time perhaps in memory, the Covid wave has meant that educational institutions across the world are closed. In just a few months, our age-old understanding of educational spaces, classroom transactions, and players has been turned on its head. The e-learning revolution is sweeping across the globe.

Children of all ages (starting from nursery and kindergarten) passively face a small screen which reflects other small faces and a bigger face. It is in this virtual classroom that lessons are communicated (rather than taught). The day is divided into sterile time slots, rather than a time table in which the best parts were the time-outs for rowdy recesses and roistering assemblies. The Teacher is just a talking head who pops up at a designated time. As the young eyes and ears strain to keep alert and awake, the other senses lie dormant. Missing are the smells from the tiffin boxes, the touch of the dog-eared books and scarred desks, the jostling camaraderie of classmates, the fights and the making-up, the shared secrets, and playful antics…and with it the range of emotions that mark the gamut of relationships among the students, and between the teacher and the taught.itscalledreading (1).gif

I must confess that I have no current and direct experience of e-learning, as a teacher, learner, or parent. But as Teacher’s Day approaches, I cannot help wondering and worrying about this new model of teachers and teaching. Yes, we have no alternative at this moment when safety and health is the priority. True that technology has enabled a safer and more widespread route to reaching out. Agreed that there are examples of inspiring innovations and models. But what will a child of the Age of Corona and Era of E-learning remember of her classroom, her classmates and above all, her teacher? What stories will he share with his children? Who will she remember with a smile or a grimace on another Teacher’s Day?

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.   Carl Jung

–Mamata

 

Friendship Matters

In thepooh friends.png next few days the hype will build up. There will be a marketing blitz reminding us that Friendship Day nears, and that the best way to be friends is by buying and gifting for each other, and that the proof of friendship is the number of cards and presents that one gets.

Indeed the idea of this day has commercial origins. As far back as 1919 Hallmark cards in the United States came up with the idea of celebrating the first Sunday of August every year as Friendship Day. It was intended to be a day for people to celebrate their friendship by sending each other cards and thereby boost the sales. Even today many countries celebrated this day in August.

However 30 July marks what is called International Friendship Day. Interestingly both the origin and the intent of this Day have a non-commercial history.

It began over sixty years ago in Paraguay. Dr Ramon Artemio Bracho was a surgeon who had worked as a doctor in rural areas for many years before he became a military doctor for his national government. Dr Ramon strongly believed that friendship is central in overcoming people’s cultural, political and religious differences. As he recalled, the seed was sown one evening when he was invited by a worker’s union to a meeting to celebrate trees. The doctor was inspired. In his words, “I began to remember what had happened the night before and I told myself how interesting it is, the gesture of the man of having created the day of the tree.  In that same instant it came to my mind that friendship is something so important and does not have its day, so it seemed to me an extraordinary idea.” The very next evening, on 20 July 1958, over dinner with close friends in Puerto Pinasco, a town on the Paraguay river, he proposed the idea of a campaign designed to promote the value of friendship in order to foster a more peaceful society. Thus was born the Cruzada Mundial de la Amistad (World Friendship Crusade).Today the World Friendship Crusade is a Foundation that promotes friendship and fellowship among all human beings, regardless of race, colour or religion.

For many years the World Friendship Crusade lobbied the United Nations to recognize and declare an international day to mark the sentiments of the Foundation.

On 5 August 1997, Mrs. Nane Annan, wife of then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, designated the much loved children’s book character Winnie the Pooh as “Ambassador of Friendship”. This was to encourage young people to learn what they could do to forge ties of friendship and understanding among different cultures to bring about peace and harmony around the world. The books by A A Milne featuring Pooh the little bear and his band of close friends are a beautiful celebration of the simple joys of companionship, loyalty and friendship.

It was on 27 July 2011 that the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 30 July as the International Day of Friendship. The United Nations invites all Member States to observe this day in accordance with the culture and customs of their local, national and regional communities, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.

It is a reminder that we are often so caught up in seeing the “otherness” in people that we cannot look beneath, to recognise the “sameness”. A great deal of how we interpret another person’s behaviour and intentions is merely a manifestation of the picture our minds have constructed about them. We assume that we can be only friends with those who are like us, and those that are not, are the “other”. But otherness can also be the most beautiful ground for connection, for it is through the blending of the sameness and the otherness that the rich tapestry of friendship is woven. Openness in thought and deed is the glue of true friendship, not just between individuals but equally cultures, communities and countries.

Today more than ever before, in a topsy-turvy world, we need to remind ourselves of the original intent of Friendship Day as Dr Ramon described it: “I think it is a special day and that it helped or helps people to remember friends in a special way, to be able to cultivate and value more this beautiful feeling that one has towards others.”

While we may not be able to physically meet our friends, while we cannot celebrate with parties and shopping sprees, what enables us to carry on in our respective mental and physical spaces is the comfort of friends and friendship. What better time to be grateful for the gift of friendship that sustains us, and to celebrate the bonds that make our life so much richer?

A friend is one of the nicest things that you can have and one of the best things you can be. Winnie the Pooh

–Mamata

 

Prejudice and An Epic Production

D3962893-2848-4398-B173-3992ED5AACE1Over 30 years ago.

A stage adaptation of the Mahabharata opened in Paris. Directed by Peter Brook, it was the first-ever stage presentation of the entire epic, and ran to 9 hours. It had a multi-racial cast—21 actors from 16 countries. Mallika Sarabhai was the lone Indian on the cast, playing the central role of Draupadi.

While many art-forms tell stories from the epic, usually it is only parts or specific episodes from the Mahabharata which are staged. This was the first (and till now, the only) time, the whole epic was adapted for the theatre. First made in French, later there was an English version too.

It made history.

It toured the world.

It did not come to India.

Why? Because there were protests in India against people from Africa playing key roles and depicting the Pandavas and some of our other heroes and heroines. There were especially strong reactions to Mamadou Dioume of Senegalese origin playing Bhima. (There were no problems with an Italian playing Arjuna, or a Pole playing Yudhishtra though!)

Peter Brook saw the Mahabharata as a universal tale, transcending time and geography, exploring the human mind and motivations. The depths the human character could plumb, as well as the heights it could reach. He saw it as the story of the race of man. And in this context, the diverse cast made sense.

Alas, the protestors in India could not see this.

We do not often think of racism as one of the many isms that mar us.

But it is there!

Along with:

Communalism

Casteism

Sexism

Regionalism

And many others.

And I don’t think any one of us is free of some prejudice or the other.

It is the time to dig deep and surface our biases, recognize them, and then grapple with them.

Not easy, but as we are becoming increasingly aware, life is not easy!

–Meena

Specially-Abled

access 2Today, Dec 3, is observed as the International Day of Disabled Persons. The Day was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly.

India signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and as part of compliance in this regard, enacted THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, 2016. Most importantly, the Act lays down Rights and Entitlements, which include:

Ensuring that the persons with disabilities enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity and respect for his or her integrity equally with others; that the capacity of persons with disabilities are utilized properly, by providing appropriate environment; that no person with disability shall be discriminated on the ground of disability; that no person is deprived of his or her personal liberty only on the ground of disability.

The Act is comprehensive in covering all aspects—from Rights to Education to Employment to Health.

In my on-ground experience though, the last-mile is still challenging. Many people with disabilities and their care-givers are not aware of their rights and entitlements. Even the first step of disability assessment and registration—which entiltes PWDs for a host of entitlements like pensions, bus and train passes etc.—is not easy, and involves ‘running’ from one office to another. Access to government and private buildings including educational and healthcare instiutions, registrar offices, post offices, banks, ATMs, cannot be taken for granted.

A long, long way to go. But to end on a note of hope, here is a story of how a small intervention can make a difference in one life.

Sajan (name changed) is a vibrant young man who lives in Delhi with his parents and a younger brother. He was born with orthopedic impairment. His parents always encouraged his ambitions. They bought him a manual tricycle to enable him to attend school.

Through hard work and perseverance, he was able to complete his secondary education. He dreamt of completing his graduation but was unable to find a suitable college nearby. His tricycle had also worn out and he was finding it harder to pedal to distant places. As a result, he chose to pursue his higher education through a distance learning programme.

Simultaneously, he also began preparing for competitive exams in order to get a government job, but found the long commute to the coaching centre tiring.

It was during this time, that his parents learnt of GMR Varalakshmi Foundation which was working in their area with differently-abled.

After a thorough assessment, staff members recognized that his trouble stemmed from using the old tricycle. The team organized an electric tricycle to him. This model of tricycle is much easier to ride, has an easy, low entry and exit, and very good back support.

Today, he rides 7 kms every day to a coaching centre of repute and is earnestly preparing for competitive exams. He is extremely happy that he can travel long distances without any discomfort.  He says, “The electric tricycle has provided wings to my dreams”.

–Meena

Books…BFF!

It’s that time of year again…the start of the summer holidays and the flurry of planning how to spend the long lazy days ahead. I always recall this excIMG_20190404_102157.jpgitement of my student days. It was a time when vacations did not mean a hectic schedule of “constructive activity classes and camps” nor travels to exotic destinations. For most of us, the greatest joy was the anticipation of the uninterrupted and unmonitored hours of reading. The great fun was in planning how to get and read as many books as one could—buying (only a few as a summer treat), borrowing from family and friends, and going to libraries.

Books were the best gifts, the best companions and the best friends. Even today, for me books are just that!

Coincidentally, I just read a wonderful piece that beautifully articulates why books are BFF! A letter to children by Swiss-born British contemporary novelist, essayist, and philosopher Alain de Botton.

Dear Reader,

We wouldn’t need books quite so much if everyone around us understood us well. But they don’t. Even those who love us get us wrong. They tell us who we are but miss things out. They claim to know what we need, but forget to ask us properly first. They can’t understand what we feel — and sometimes, we’re unable to tell them, because we don’t really understand it ourselves. That’s where books come in. They explain us to ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated and less alone. We might have lots of good friends, but even with the best friends in the world, there are things that no one quite gets. That’s the moment to turn to books. They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters. They are the perfect cure for loneliness. They can be our very closest friends.

Yours,  Alain

 The letter is one of 121 letters in a recent publication titled A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Edited by Maria Popova, the book celebrates reading and books through letters by some of today’s most wonderful culture-makers—writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philosophers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading. Each letter is accompanied by an illustration by a celebrated illustrator or graphic artist that presents that artist’s visual response to the text. All the pieces and artworks are donated, and the profits from sales are to go to New York Public Library. What a wonderful tribute by book lovers, for book lovers. I look forward to savouring the whole book.

–Mamata

 

 

 

Caring and Sharing

The excitement began in the first week of March. What shall we do this year? Shall we have a theme? What about the lunch? Shall we order it or have a pIMG_20190302_112325.jpgot luck? Shall it be a particular cuisine or a celebration of diversity? And of course, it will be our Sari Day, but shall we have a colour code this year? Intercoms buzzed and Prepcoms were held.

It was the run up to Women’s Day at CEE! This was not the day to make a great political statement, nor a significant feminist event. It was simply a time to meet, eat, laugh and play together—a celebration of sisterhood.

For me this sisterhood was one of the many things that made CEE so special. What may have been the first link in the chain was a true “sense of belonging” to an organisation. But that was lengthened and strengthened by numerous bonds that brought the new and the old; the different tiers of formal designations, and the several generations that made up the ‘woman power’ of the institution.  It was the shared cups of tea and the lunch dabbas; it was the shared agonising over children, parents and in laws; it was the exchange of news and views, and the show-and-tell of things bought or made. This was a constant underground stream that flowed round the year, giving energy to our daily tasks at work. This seamless blending of many generations, and the mutual caring and sharing that made our lives so rich.

For us the Matriarchs, this sisterhood was the mainspring of our daily life. And we revelled in it as we scolded and moulded the fledglings; laughed and cried with our contemporaries; celebrated births and mourned the passings; bedecked ourselves for weddings, and planned office parties with much gusto. It was in many ways a time of innocence, a time when comfort and joy was derived from the feeling of going through life together. It was so much more than a coming together on a single day of the year.

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” Maya Angelou

In this week, we look back and remember with gratitude and love all the wonderful women that we had the fortune to have met and worked with, and who have enriched us in so many ways.

–Mamata and Meena

 

Balm Buff

Spoiler alert: We are discussing only pain balms, not wimpy stuff like lip balms!

I am an unrepentant balm sniffer. I cannot fall asleep unless I sniff some balm and apply some to my temples. The hint of a headache, and I reach for a balm. A niggling in the throat calls for a generous rub and copious sniffing.

My friends know a balm is the way to my heart. So I  actually have friends gift me bottles and tins, from Kerala, from the Himalayas, from travels to Southeast Asia. It is a balm story which defines ‘hostess with the mostest’ for me. A friend in Delhi with whom I sometimes stay over provides toothbrushes for frequent guests—they stay in colour-coded caps in the guest bathroom. But she really set the standard when she stocked a jar of my favourite balm in the guestroom, so that I could feel that much more at home!

I think the word unguent was made for balms. I have never heard it used in any other context: ‘a soft greasy or viscous substance used as ointment or for lubrication’.

But what intrigues me a little is that the definition of balm is: ‘A fragrant cream or liquid used to heal or soothe the skin; Something that has a soothing or restorative effect.’

None of my balms soothe! They sting. In fact, the test of a balm is that your eyes should water when you put a spot of it on your temples.

As far as I can make out, balms come in two types—the brown unguents, and the off-white ones. There are good ones in both categories. But as far as Tiger Balm (THE balm) is concerned, the brown one beats the white one hollow.

We balm buffs are sensitive to packaging too. You have the glass bottles (the best). Then the plastic jars (OK). The metal flat disc-like boxes (good too). And now the roll-on type (I know that a liquid too can be a balm, but I am not so convinced).

Why a random rant on balms? No idea, except that the weather is not very balmy (Meaning: ‘characterized by pleasantly warm weather’– obviously not from the same root), thanks to which people all around are sneezing and coughing, which makes me want to stock on my balms!

–Meena

Living Coral

So the fashion gurus have decreed that the colour of the year 2019 is Living Coral which is described as “an animated and life-affirming shade of orange with aIMG_20190123_112828 (1).jpg golden undertone”. This is the to-go-for colour for clothes and bags and shoes and accessories!

I was amused when I read this, and it also set me musing about my own year of Living Coral as it were.

This was the coral tree that stood just outside my office window and gifted me with hours of delight. For many years it was always there, and we took its comforting presence almost for granted.  But one year my window-sharing colleague and I decided that we would look longer and closer at this old friend. We realised that the coral tree itself changed form and colour with the seasons. In the winter the skeleton of bare branches was silhouetted against the blue sky; come February this would transform almost overnight, into a burst of colour with the brilliant orange crimson buds and flowers. And yes, it was indeed life-affirming. The tree became animated with the many visitors that came to feast and fest on the blooms. Drongos and tailor birds, koels and babblers, doves and parakeets—calling, cooing, shrieking, sipping–what a cacophony of exploration and satiation! Occasionally the feathered visitors would hop onto our window sill and gaze curiously at us, the creatures without wings trapped in glass cages. Other winged creatures—butterflies and dragonflies, bees and wasps would flutter and flit within the blooms. But as with all life, it cannot always be Spring. The flowers would dry and shed, and the crimson would be replaced by green pods that soon turned brown. And in that brown nestled the seeds of new life, preparing to reaffirm itself with the cycle of time.

A single tree, a single window and a glorious reaffirmation of life!

Over the year, Pankaj the artist and I tried to capture some of this magic in words and pictures. And a small book The Coral Tree was the outcome. Today as I sit at another window, I turn the pages and celebrate that coral tree as a truly living entity.

The company that promotes the annual Colour of the Year describes Living Coral as a colour that “welcomes and encourages light-hearted activity, and the innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits.” I feel somewhat sad that the joyful pursuits may be limited to looking through store windows, and shopping for clothes and accessories to keep up with the fashionistas.

–Mamata

 

 

Art Mart

20190106_120410

A dramatic 6’x4’ acrylic on canvas by Mahadeva Shetty

The first Sunday of January is marked down in every Bangalorean’s calendar as Chitra Santhe Day, the day when the busy Kumara Krupa Road is taken over by artists exhibiting and selling their works.

20190106_111151The Sunday just gone by was the 16th edition of the Chitra Santhe. About 1500 artists from 16 states of India were there, and 400,000 people visited!

As a regular visitor to the Santhe, it is something I look forward to. More than the art even, the festive atmosphere, people taking the time to look at paintings and talk about them, mothers and fathers discussing art with their children….

20190106_113620

Grateful to the organizers and the city for this opportunity. And since it is about art, less words and some pics this time!

–Meena