“Litters of garbage and insects breeding in stagnant water was a common sight in my village. With most people being busy with commercial farming throughout the year, issues such as hygiene, nutrition, food diversity were easily ignored. It was always a challenge for me to make my own people understand the importance of health and hygiene,” says Ranjeet, a 21-year old volunteer who is actively associated with Welthungerhilfe’s local partner Pravah in Munjoria village, Deoghar district, Jharkhand.
For the hundreds of people living in Munjoria village, life was very different before the coronavirus pandemic. A stronghold of commercial agriculture, Munjoria along with its neighbouring village – Bara Bazar – was the agricultural backbone of Sonaraythari block, feeding approximately 76,116 individuals. However, the national lockdown had a serious effect on the village. While on one hand their sales dropped on the other, they now had more time to look inward on their living conditions which they were ignoring for all these years. They were astonished to see the unhygienic conditions they were living in, and poor health conditions of their children – issues which Ranjeet, was telling them for years.
“I realised that since the community members and village elders had nowhere to go during the lockdown this would be the right time for me to approach them. I took it as challenge upon myself,” shares Ranjeet. One morning, Ranjeet headed out to Pravah’s office on his bicycle to collect disinfectant solutions to be brought back to his village. He voluntarily started to clean some of the dirty public spaces of the village. Seeing his dedication, two women Sugia and Rupia Devi came forward from the community to support him. The fear of children falling ill and concern over unhygienic conditions made them clean the roads, dispose the litter and disinfect the stagnant waters. They also created awareness in the village and motivated the community to give an hour of their day towards cleaning and to follow hygiene practices.
Pravah has been working in the village for the last couple of years and have witnessed similar challenges. Issues related to nutrition, dietary diversity, hygiene and education had never been the priority of this village. While their income increased due to commercial farming, their children were falling victim to ‘hidden hunger’. Despite most families being economically well-off, 27 out of its 91 families of Munjoria village have malnourished children. Ranjeet took this opportunity and advocated the importance of nutrition and its intertwining connection with WASH. Being a potential farmer himself, Ranjeet is creating awareness on the need of homestead kitchen gardens, food diversity and nutrition as against chemical fertiliser based commercial farming.
When the lockdown was announced, the local markets were closed. Only limited number of shops could function which severely affected most other smaller vendors. At this moment, 37 economically backward households with malnourished children were supported by Pravah with dry rations and hygiene kits. For overall cleaning of the village spaces, 5kg of bleaching powder was also provided. And Ranjeet has been actively supporting Pravah in their efforts round-the-clock.
“I did this for my community and village. I am thankful that the community finally took out some time and understood the importance of hygiene and nutrition. I also reached out to other volunteers in the nearby villages to promote a preventive form of care during this pandemic’, says Ranjeet, as his eyes light up.
Munjoria village is now taking sanitation, hygiene practices and nutrition more seriously. They are consciously keeping their surroundings clean, practicing handwashing with soap, covering their water storage facilities and are also turning towards backyard kitchen gardening.
With inputs from Pravah.