Phulwaris or rural creches in Chhattisgarh try to take care of the nutritional needs of children of working mothers

As more and more women in rural areas leave home for work, the nutritional needs of their babies get overlooked. In most cases an elder sibling stays back at home to take care of the younger children hence hampering her or his own education.

The urban child care solution of a crèche is slowly creeping into rural areas to address this problem where both the parents work. A health organisation in Chhattisgarh, Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) is running 90 creches in its project area with 1100 children between the age group of six months to three years.

A rural crèche or phulwari with 15 to 20 children is typically managed by two women from the local community, who are trained in the basics of health, hygiene and creche-management.

Children attending phulwaris were visibly happier and healthier, says a review of the phulwaris conducted last year by Sangita Kulathinal and Bijoy Joseph. “Our observation and also data showed improvements in the weights of children who attended phulwaris. Most of the village and senior health workers started working before the phulwari programme was initiated and hence have witnessed the positive trend in the health of children and reduction in illness among those attending phulwaris.”

Ravindra Kurbude, co-ordinator of phulwaris, explains, “During their six to seven hour stay in the creche children are given two cooked meals and one snack of a high protein- high energy mixture sattu. The sattu is prepared by women's groups, and packed by JSS for distribution in creches. Creche-children now also get an egg each twice a week. Parents say that these regular meals have stimulated the appetite of children, and now they are more likely to eat at home as well.”

Anil Bamne, field-coordinator of phulwaris adds, “Apart from improved nutrition, safety of small children is better ensured in creches.” To avoid the risk of any infection spreading, parents of sick children are asked to avoid sending children to creches during the duration of the illness.

A significant side-benefit is that elder children who earlier looked after babies are now able to go to school.

Creches also have toys to stimulate learning. It is heart warming to see small children responding to the songs sung by creche-coordinators by clapping and trying to repeat what the co-ordinator has said. A 7-month old baby tries to imitate what a 3-year baby is doing, while a 3-year old tries to play the 'senior' role!

The phulwaris aim to fill the gap in nutrition as well as the lack of a caretaker for children below the age of three who can feed them at regular intervals.

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