Monthly Archives: October 2012

AIF Fellow impressions 2012-13 (2 of 2)

On our first day working as fellows at Calcutta Kids, about a month back now, Sriya and I found ourselves rolling our pant-legs up and wading into dark, murky water. We were walking door-to-door with the community health workers in Fakir Bagan. The health workers, who form the foundation of CK’s mission, cajoled and persuaded, informed and explained, about the basic behaviors that were essential for their health and the health of the child in their womb. I realized then, as the gentle fans in the homes of the expecting mothers did a valiant effort to dry our monsoon rain-soaked clothes, that public health didn’t get more grassroots than this. Calcutta Kids worked, rain or shine, at the deepest and most essential roots of maternal and child health, in areas that are black holes in the larger Indian public health system.

Cleaning the drains in Fakir Bagan

Compared to the U.S., Calcutta is, of course, a risky place. One thing that I heard many times from family and friends was to take care of my health. But the truth is no matter how much riskier my life has gotten since I came to Calcutta from Ohio, daily life for an inhabitant of Fakir Bagan is laden with an immensely greater amount of risk. We can look to life expectancy (an admittedly crude indicator). Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. is 78.5 years, and in India it’s 67.1 years (CIA World Factbook 2012). These are averages though; estimates of life expectancy in slums across the globe, ones similar to Fakir Bagan have ranged from seven to fifteen years lower than non-slum urban areas. The risks begin at the very beginning of life and continue throughout, and are not far from what the average American would have faced a century ago.

A healthy CK child

In my view, all health providers at their core attempt to mitigate and prevent risk for their beneficiaries. At the most essential and highest impact stages of life, Calcutta Kids tackles this vast disparity for risk of death and illness. I’ve seen this done through a myriad of MCH programs, including nutrition for malnourished children, regular immunization, check-ups with an on-staff physician, and regular meetings with our health workers.

Immunizations about to be given

Over the next year, Calcutta Kids’s capacity to be involved and engaged within the community will increase, including the behavior change communication programs and community health meetings Sriya will be aiding with as well as the new child development corner. Additionally, Calcutta Kids will be transitioning the health clinic into the Ma o Shishu Shiksha Kendra community center, right in the thick of Fakir Bagan, and initiating a potential geographical expansion within the Howrah slums. I look forward to helping with these goals throughout the year and many more rain soaked home visits.–Pranav Reddy (AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2012-2013)

AIF Fellow impressions 2012-13 (1 of 2)

I am so impressed and inspired by the motivation you see at Calcutta Kids. Every health worker I have been able to spend time with during my first month here is doing a wholehearted job to be a good resource to the organization and more importantly to the community they are serving. Thanks to our mentor Danya Sarkar, who helped us feel settled down, Pranav and I have been able to explore the community and learn all the various functions of the organization. As we make our visits into the field with the health workers, the community has noticed and recognizes us as new members of Calcutta Kids. We realized this as we looked a little lost while trying to find our way to the community center and two women immediately gave us directions before we even asked them!

The mission of Calcutta Kids can be understood through the manner in which the health workers communicate with the women of the community. Every child is important and can be given adequate care by simply monitoring them. If a child’s weight has not increased during the monthly Growth, Monitoring and Promotion Program, the health worker visits the mother in the following week and counsels her. The health workers express how they are really sad when they see no positive growth in the child. They encourage each mother to take more care of the baby, give her simple tips on how to create a healthy diet and also praise her when she has done a good job. Thus, the health workers have built a great relationship with the mothers of the community. The mothers are always happy to see the didis and welcome them into their houses. They also offer tea or lunch and ask us to spend time with them. When the health worker completes filling up her form and questionnaire, the women thank her for coming and tell her that they felt happy they got to chat with them. The women also trust the health workers as much as they trust a doctor. Even when the health workers are merely on their walk from one house visit to another, many women stop them with their babies and talk about how their child still has a cold or might have developed a skin infection.

Meeting for pregnant women lead by Laxmi Gupta

Meeting for pregnant women led by Laxmi Gupta

The success stories from Calcutta Kids are commendable and its establishment in Fakir Bagan is very apparent in the number of people who visit the clinic everyday or the manner in which we are received in each house. However, there is still work to be done. Although the women recognize the messages delivered by the health workers, many women still do not seem to be adopting a change in their habits. They usually quote too much housework and stress in their lives as reasons for not being able to follow the health workers advice. Even when they come to the community meetings, they listen to the messages or watch the videos but whether they are following the key points is something yet to be assessed. This is a project I plan to work on during my time at Calcutta Kids. I will be working out behavior change communication strategies using different methods of delivering messages to the community. I will be working with the health workers and the beneficiaries to find out why they are not able to follow simple, yet key health practices. Through the health counseling sessions, community meetings and discussions groups I hope to understand the needs of the women, analyze existing techniques of delivering health messages and find ways to improve them. Eventually, I hope to create a sustainable structure to monitor and evaluate changes in health behavior as put forth by the health workers.- Sriya Srikrishnan (AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2012-2013)

The CK-AIF Partnership

The partnership with the America India Foundation’s Clinton Fellowship Program has become an integral part of Calcutta Kids and a rich addition to our operations. In a field which has become infamous for its infighting and noncooperation, this partnership represents the best in international development cooperation. Here are two organizations which have their own distinct objectives, but share a common goal—to create positive social change in India. And together we have been doing just that…creating positive social change through eager young people committed to helping India bring about change that will help empower traditionally disadvantaged populations and, in turn, bring about sustainable poverty alleviation.

Since its inception, Calcutta Kids has enjoyed the chance to mentor and provide valuable learning opportunities for the next generation of western development workers through our internship positions. We’ve had dozens of young people from the United States and Europe work with Calcutta Kids to learn about and participate in our mission to improve the health status of pregnant women and children in slum areas of Kolkata. These internships have proven overwhelmingly positive for both the interns and for Calcutta Kids. At the same time, we’re aware that doing it right requires a lot of work on our part to identify the right interns, link them up with needed tasks that will utilize their skills, and then organize logistical support for them.

2012-2013 AIF Fellow, Pranav Reddy

Last year we began partnering with AIF’s Clinton Fellowship Program. And it was a terrific year indeed. AIF carefully selects Fellows who are not only eager to learn, but who also show considerable potential to benefit the small organizations with which AIF partners. AIF also organizes funding for the fellows, and facilitates housing for them. Taking care of these logistics allows Calcutta Kids the time to focus on the Fellow and the task, and to figure out the best means of linking the two. Last year, AIF sent us Margy Elliott who had recently finished her MPH at Columbia University. Margy spent ten months with us, quickly became part of the Calcutta Kids family, and, in the process, solidified our relationship with AIF.
Margy took on an array of professional tasks at Calcutta Kids—and in each served as a healthy bridge between the community health workers and the main office administration. She also developed our beautiful website and conducted a SWOT analysis which has provided invaluable insights, and, in turn, has resulted in significant morale boosting among the Calcutta Kids team.

In September of this year, AIF sent us two new fellows—Pranav Reddy and Sriya Srikrishnan—both of whom are quickly becoming part of the Calcutta Kids team and family. Still early on in the fellowship, Pranav and Sriya are getting to know the organization with the idea of identifying limiting factors and means by which they might best be addressed. Sriya is spending a substantial amount of time in the field with our community health workers and participating in our community meetings. She also is working to increase the effectiveness of our behavioral change communication efforts. And she is examining means by which Calcutta Kids might establish a more meaningful and sustainable collaboration with government programs. Pranav, meanwhile, is carefully examining Calcutta Kids data and looking for cost-effective means of expanding our coverage area—one of the organization’s major goals for the coming year. He has a particular interest in examining the inner-workings of an Indian NGO, and then helping to mainstream administrative tasks.

2012-2013 AIF fellow, Sriya Srikrishnan

As was the case with Margy last year, we are expecting valuable results from the work Pranav and Sriya are doing. They’re off to a great start!

All of us at Calcutta Kids are grateful to those individuals who have helped to make this partnership with AIF possible. We look forward to the next 9 months with Sriya and Pranav, and then to many more years with such bright and eager AIF Fellows.—Noah Levinson

(A similar blog written by the same author was submitted to AIF to be posted on their website.)