Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh: At the anganwadi centre in Badgaon village, 375 km from Bhopal, 45-year-old anganwadi worker Thumi Bai struggles to read and note down the weight of children from the weighing scale.
Neither Thumi Bai nor her assistant Bhaili can read or write. This could be a possible reason why in the last 9 years, she has referred just 3 children to the nutrition rehabilitation centre.
Anganwadi worker Thumi Bai says, “I cannot read or write. I manage the centre with the help of my son Raju who is literate. When he is not around, I face problems. I often rely on guess work to keep track of growth of children.”
In the tribal-dominated Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh, there are over 2,100 anganwadi centres. In over 200 centres, anganwadi workers, who are considered foot-soldiers in the fight against malnutrition, are illiterate.
While the district has over 3,500 schools, there are no programmes for adult education.
Vijay Singh Solanki, Assistant Director, Women and Child Development Department, says, “We face problems at centres where the workers are illiterate. They are unable to maintain record and fill growth form. We will be starting a literacy program for the anganwadi workers soon.”
Anganwadi system started in the year 1975. Before 2007, panchayat used to select workers in the state and education was not the priority. That’s how many illiterate workers came into the system.
After 2007, workers were supposed to be 5th, 8th or 10th pass depending upon the literacy rate in the area. However, many illiterate women used wrongful means to get school passing certificates and joined.
As per Census 2014 survey, Madhya Pradesh has the highest infant mortality rate in the country at 52. According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16, Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of malnutrition cases after Bihar which is at number one.
The state is also facing acute shortage of doctors, auxiliary nurse midwife, feeding demonstrators, cooks and care takers.
The government will have to go step by step and come up with a consolidated plan in order to fix the malnutrition crisis in the state.