Month: November 2004

Malnutrition and our Society

Malnutrition and our Society

A study by University of Southern California, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, has found that children who are malnourished in the first few years of their life are more likely to be aggressive and antisocial throughout childhood and into their late teens. "Poor nutrition, characterised by zinc, iron, vitamin B and protein deficiencies, leads to low IQ, which leads to later antisocial behaviour. These are all nutrients linked to brain development," said psychology professor and co-author of the study Adrian Raine.

If the study is true, then India has reason to be concerned. According to UNICEF, over a third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. 47 percent children under three years of age are malnourished. If something isn’t done quickly, then it also means that our country will have more than a third of the world’s anti-social elements in a few years’ time.

In spite of the unfavourable statistic, the world has its hopes stuck on India. "With its 400 million children, India holds the key to achieving a quantum leap for children globally. As acknowledged by the international community, India has a leadership role in ensuring the rights and wellbeing of the world’s children," says a UNICEF document. Though UNICEF, along with the Government of India, has malnutrition on the top of its agenda for this country, the responsibility does not end with them. Thankfully, we do have many socially conscious citizens who, individually or as part of a group, often contribute in their own way towards such urgent social causes. Take Poject Aahaar for instance, which is aimed at taking care of malnourished tribal children of a tribal village called Ronakapada at Yeoor Hills. Since July 2004, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, about 75 or so tribal children receive a nutrition-packed meal that included bananas, boiled eggs and Rajgira Laadoos. Bananas and Rajgira are both known for their high nutritional value and eggs are a rich source of protein. What’s interesting is that the eggs are purchased from a tribal woman   and another tribal woman boils them. Both these women are paid for their services and have found a new source of income.

The project, launched   by Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills (IWCTH) with the help of city-based NGO Sevadham, was initiated at the suggestion of Dr Pallavi Bhatt, a paediatrician, who visited the village during a health camp organised by the club and observed that the children living there were malnourished. Quarterly health camps were then augmented with a regular supply of nutrition to the children. So, while the doctors at the health camp checked their height and weight along with a general body check up and provided medicines such as cough syrups, the food distributed ensured that the children remain properly nourished.

At least one specialist accompanies the health camp. So in July it was a dentist who recommended appropriate oral care. IWCTH distributed free toothpaste and toothbrushes too. Then in October, an eye-specialist checked the eyesight of the children. In January, when the next camp is scheduled, an ENT specialist is expected to accompany the volunteers.

On October 29, the IWCTH held its second health camp up under Aahaar. The results of initiating the nutritional supply in July was encouraging. All but three children had gained about one to one and a half kilos in weight. The three who didn’t gain weight didn’t lose it either.

Sarmistha Chowdhury from IWCTH says, "We came to know about this village from Sevadham and we first started only with health camps, where we carry out health check ups and would distribute some food, old clothes and toys for children. When Dr Bhatt accompanied us to the village, she noticed the state of the children, and then suggested that a regular nutritional meal be supplied to them. This is how Project Aahaar was conceived." The funds for the project come from personal contributions of the IWCTH members.

If every city, town and village decided to replicate project Aahaar, soon our country will see a dramatic decline in the prevalence of malnutrition – and perhaps also in number of anti-social cases. We can then expect a more peaceful future.

Of Chacha Nehru and Chacha Deepak

Of Chacha Nehru and Chacha Deepak

Jawaharlal Nehru, whose fondness for children earned him the affectionate title of Chacha Nehru, did not distinguish between children of different classes, religions or nationalities. Once, while visiting an exhibition of pictures and cartoons, Nehru was delighted at the performance of the children. He expressed his delight thus: "As I looked at the pictures I thought of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like one another. If you bring them together they play or quarrel. But even their quarrel is some kind of play. They do not think of differences of class, colour or status." A wonderful and accurate observation that only a truly great man can make.

The manner in which Garden School at Cherai celebrates Children’s Day is a fitting tribute to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Garden School invites marginalised children from different sections of the society to the school and organises an entertainment programme for them. This year, on Saturday November 13, the school invited 18 girls from Divya Prabha, a home for street girls at Vartak Nagar, to its school premises, who along with the students of Garden School, enjoyed a special programme celebrating Diwali and Children’s Day together.

The children were divided into two batches. At 7 pm, the first batch, consisting of nursery students attended the programme. Later, it was the turn of slightly older students, (aged 4 to 10 years) from the Enrichment Class of Garden School. These older children were grouped with the girls from Divya Prabha. A magic show by city-based magician Shukesh Kumar was a big hit with the older children. Because the show was interactive (the children were made to participate in the magic), they thoroughly enjoyed the magic show. After the magic show, the children were served snacks. As they settled down, the highlight of the day, Chacha Deepak, made his entry. A unique personality, not unlike Santa Claus, Chacha Deepak was dressed somewhat like the Air-India Maharaja, complete with a turban, a colourful outfit and a long white beard on his face. Chacha Deepak regaled the children by his mere presence. He went around meeting all children, shaking their hands, playing with them, making a human train and generally entertaining them. Later Chacha Deepak (Deepak stands for Light) stand lit up sparklers along with children to celebrate the festival of lights.  

Anand Turakia, the man who became Chacha Deepak, is father of an ex-student of Garden School. He regularly involves himself with activities of the School and he played an important role in organising this programme as well. "I enjoy playing the role of Chacha Deepak. Many children try to pull out my beard out of curiosity. They want to know who is the person behind all the heavy make up and beard."

The street children enjoyed the programme as much as the school children. Before they left, Chacha Deepak presented them with a stainless steel glass filled with Diwali sweets. This gift is procured with the money collected throughout the year from the regular students of Garden School. Every week, these children contribute two rupees for marginalised children. In August, on the occasion of Independence Day, the school distributed fruits among children the remand home. The gifts may be small in value, but the thoughts of sharing and togetherness make them invaluable indeed.

Festival of Lights
On Monday, about 225 women   and children, who have no one to depend on, celebrated Diwali with enthusiasm and love, thanks to the   volunteers of the Council of Catholic Women of India’s Thane unit. For more than 10 years now, volunteers from the Council of Catholic Women of India have been celebrating Diwali with the inhabitants of Premdan, Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute at Airoli.

The volunteers of the council spent an entire day with the inmates, creating rangolis, playing the guitar, singing songs, and dancing merrily to the popular Hindi songs. Firecrackers delighted the children and women equally and there was much happiness in the air. One of the volunteers Sharon Scott, who brought along with her people of different   faiths, sponsored Chicken Biryani for all 225 women and children – needless to say, everyone relished it. It truly was a festival of lights for the deprived women and children, because the love and affection the volunteers distributed lit up their hearts and souls.

A Cruise of Happiness

A Cruise of Happiness

The tribal children of Yeoor Village could not have imagined a more enjoyable and satisfying Diwali gift. On Tuesday November 9, volunteers from city-based NGO Sevadham took a busload of tribal kids, aged 5 to 14, for a visit to INS Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier of Indian Navy, which is now a floating museum anchored off the Gateway of India in Mumbai. INS Vikrant was decommissioned on January 31, 1997.

The trip was jointly organised by Sevadham and the Thane Unit of the Council of Catholic Women of India. Pushpa Kadam, a social worker from Sevadham, had to leave home at 4.30 am from her home at Nerul in order to reach Yeoor in time to take the 55 tribal kids and two women volunteers from the village to the Tiger Gate. This is the third such trip that Sevadham has organised for children. Last year a group of mentally challenged children from St John’s Special School had explored fighter carrier and before that, it was a group of street children had got lucky.

Before they went on board the vessel, the children had no clue what was waiting for them. They probably thought it was just a picnic where they would have fun. But the INS Vikrant turned out to be a pure delight. From the moment the tribal children entered the ship, they could hardly contain their excitement. They had never seen anything so gigantic. Born and brought up in a village environment, the ship structure was a shock to the kids, who shouted in amazement, "This boat is so big!" Soon, they were taken around the ship and were shown the different decks of vessel. The children learnt about the vital role that INS Vikrant had played in the Indo-Pak war of 1971 and why it had been nicknamed "The War Heroine of 1971". The children also discovered how the Indian Naval officers lived onboard warships and how they ran their ships. Besides that they learnt about fighter jets, missiles, torpedoes and bombs. In short, they learnt about how the Naval forces defend their country.

After the two-hour or so of exploration of the ship, the children were taken to the navy office in Colaba, where they had snacks (Biscuits, cake and soft drinks) before being treated to a magic show. The children were completely bowled over by the magician’s acts who performed every trick in the book. When the magician produced pigeons out of nowhere, the children clapped in absolute delight and wonder. After the magic show, the children had a relishing lunch. Before   they left, every child got a small gift package containing a pencil, an eraser, chocolates, a balloon, and a whistle. They kids savoured every moment of this breathtaking trip to India’s glorious first aircraft carrier.

"Later, so many children thanked us for the wonderful experience, which they know their parents cannot give them. They were thrilled and very happy indeed," says Kadam. The 55 children may have never imagined that something could be so big till they actually saw it. We may never be able to understand what they felt and experienced. But we know for sure that the experience was special for them. And who knows, one of them may have silently decided to grow up, join the Navy to serve the nation.

Science for Society

Science for Society

Jidnyasa’s Science Square is a programme that brings students, teachers and scientists together for creating a better world. Science Square encourages students from various colleges to work on community issues by applying scientific methods. Earlier this year, when Jidnaysa launched the Science Square programme, the aim was to collaborate with research institutes and colleges to bring science out of the ivory towers and into the streets.

On October 29, 2004, members of Jidnyasa Vidnyan Munch (science platform) presented their research projects as part of the Science Square programme. Dr. Shyam Asolekar, head of department of Environmental Engineering at IIT Bombay and Ashok Datar, Director of Maharashtra Economic Development Council were the chief guests at the event. SYBSc students of Ramnairain Ruia College and B N Bandodkar College presented six projects as part of Science Square. Two class seven students from Thane, Sai and Jai, presented a special project titled, "Contamination of Water in Storage Tanks of Residential Societies in Naupada Area". Sai and Jai, who are members of Jidnyasa, won accolades from guests for their research, which found that in 25 per cent of all the societies in Naupada, water stored in tanks is heavily contaminated.

In his speech, Asolekar, explained the concept and background of the sustainable development. While pointing out the importance of the work done by Jidnyasa, Asolekar noted that this kind of work represents a global shift towards environmental consciousness. TMC Commissioner Sanjay Sethi, who was also present at the event, applauded students for their sincere efforts and also appreciated Jidnyasa for its commitment to the betterment of thane city.

According to Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee if Jidnyasa, Science Square stands for four points of a square: Research Institutes (BARC, TIFR and IITs), Colleges and college students, Private and Public Schools and its students and Municipal Schools and its students. The idea is that scientists and college professors provide opportunities to undergraduate students to conduct scientific experiments while simultaneously also benefit the society. The undergraduate students and college professors would train public and private school teachers and students who in turn will spread scientific awareness among the municipal schools and its students.

Two of the projects, one on Vermi-composting and the other on biogas, were for BMC and were supported by MEDC. Two projects were for TMC, where students analysed the chemical and biological composition of sewage channels in Thane. These were supported by the TMC. Two more projects were carried out in Dicholi Village at Mokhada (Thane District), an adivasi area. Students collected drinking water samples from schools and residential areas and tested for contamination and impurities. Senior professors like Dr Athale and Dr Borkar from Bandodkar college, and Leena Phadke and Varsha Shukla from Ruia college among others guided the students in the projects. "People think that NGOs and environment organisations act only during Ganpati festival. But that’s not true. We carry out community projects throughout the year. All projects carried out by students under Science Square address issues of social relevance," said Dighe.

Well known sci-fi author Carl Sagan said, "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology." There is no doubt that greater scientific awareness in the society will lead to better use of scientific research, discoveries and innovations. Students must be given adequate opportunities to learn science the practical way instead mugging concepts from books. Theory can go only so far, but real learning happens out there in the real world. Initiatives such as Science Square can go along way in raising the scientific quotient of the society at large.