Akshara’s efforts to better Anganwadis in North Karnataka

Steady Progress

The team reports state that steady progress is being made in the 109 anganwadis in Hubli and Dharwad in Akshara’s model anganwadi programme. Their efforts continue without let up every month, with regular monitoring visits, handholding of anganwadi workers, meetings with Bal Vikas Samithis and parents, and community interactions, and all this is having an impact. The community is more responsive and anganwadis are performing better.

“Akshara Always Comes up with New and Innovative Ideas”

The notable event of the year was the training. Akshara’s resource group trained Supervisors of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in the model anganwadi curriculum and LEGO activities. As Master Resource Persons, the Supervisors cascaded the training to all 109 anganwadi workers.

The team observed that the cooperation and participation of anganwadi workers was quite exemplary. But Supervisors who were the master trainers were busy with official work and the Akshara team had to put in additional effort to see the training through.

Day One opened with a discussion. Anganwadi workers were invited to talk about their experiences with the programme’s teaching-learning material (TLM) and how Akshara’s intervention was influencing them in their way of working. Most of the anganwadi workers said that they were reporting to work on time. Earlier, they used to be apprehensive of the Akshara team, but now they look on them as friends who unfailingly support them. This led to a frank interaction. The training team then conducted group activities as specified in Akshara’s Model Anganwadi Training Manual.

Day Two was all about LEGO – training in LEGO activities.  Anganwadi workers participated like little children, said the team. They prepared models and created scenes that reflected the concept of preschool. Everyone had a lot of fun. The team distributed LEGO kits to the anganwadi workers and gave them instructions on how to conduct activities for children in their centres.

Shaila Teminkoppa said “Akshara always comes up with new and innovative ideas. The LEGO kit is very attractive and children will enjoy it.”
Rhanath from Dharwad said “I did not know how to assign corners for different preschool skills or divide the teaching-learning material and facilitate activities for children. Initially, it was difficult, but now it is interesting.”
Shivaleela from Madarmaddi Circle said “Parents and children were attracted by the TLM provided by Akshara, but now everyone will be excited to see LEGO. Children will become regular in attendance.”

Community Interactions
The team held parents’ meetings in anganwadis in the presence of the anganwadi workers to demonstrate by example how to lead such engagements. The team introduced themselves and Akshara’s work. The teaching-learning materials were displayed and the team informed them of its uses in furthering learning. This was a strategy, and it worked – some of the parents came to realize the value of preschool education and ascertained from the anganwadi workers how they use the TLMs in the classroom and requested them to teach their children properly.

Household visits are forums for communication with the community and the team lays down a target every month. Their target was 300 households, and they visited 200, a 67% achievement rate. The message of education is seeping in, the team says.

Bal Vikas Samithis are slowly gearing to their function as community guardians of anganwadis. The team engaged Samithi members, holding 88 meetings, 88% of their target, making them realize their responsibilities towards anganwadis. They also held 5 community meetings and 42 self-help group meetings.

The team notes that their work in the community had to be scaled down in September as they were busy collecting the pre-test answer sheets from anganwadis and involved in the training.

A Room of Their Own

Saroja Patil from Jiddi Oni, Dharwad, has been running her anganwadi in a temple for the last five years. Devotees frequently streamed into the temple, creating a lot of disturbance, distracting the children and making it difficult for Saroja to conduct preschool activities. Akshara’s Cluster Facilitator, Suvarna Guthal, intervened and spoke to Bal Vikas Samithi members and parents.

She took it a level higher and met Shivanna Badvannavar, the Corporator of the area, and explained to him the anganwadi’s acute problem of space. She requested him to provide a room where Saroja could run her anganwadi. Suvarna did not stop there. She followed it up with the Corporator and took community members with her to advance Saroja’s case. Shivanna Badvannavar yielded and allotted a spacious room near the temple for the anganwadi.

Parents are happy, and as for Saroja and the children, they are revelling in a space they can finally call their own. The Department of Women and Child Development, under whose mandate the ICDS runs anganwadis, expressed its appreciation for the efforts put in by the Akshara team.

Generating Impact
Ratna, the Field Coordinator, has been holding regular community meetings in Bengari in HFWTC Circle, an area she is in charge of, and it has been impact-generating on a scale that took the team by pleasant surprise.

One of the days, Bal Vikas Samithi members and a few parents locked up the anganwadi in Bengari because the anganwadi worker and helper always arrived late. The community appealed to them to come on time, failing which they said they would repeat what they had done, lock them out of their anganwadi, and report the matter to higher authorities.

Akshara Foundation in North Karnataka

A Dynamic Discussion
A dynamic thrust is being given to the preschool programme in Hubli-Dharwad. Shankar Narayan, Head of Operations, and Latha Devi, Programme Head, Preschool Programme, were at Akshara’s office in Dharwad for a discussion with the field team. It went on for three hours, a wide-ranging exercise, with the team’s personal field experiences enlivening the proceedings. Latha commended the Hubli-Dharwad team for Akshara’s imprint and impact that is clearly visible in the anganwadis.
Action to be Taken
The team will train Supervisors to become Master Resource Persons (MRPs) of the programme. The same training to be imparted to Akshara’s team and all 109 anganwadi workers in the programme. LEGO training also to be organised and the LEGO kit distributed to the anganwadis.
Administer pre-tests to all the children.
The team will concentrate on observing the condition of the anganwadis, use the observation sheets when they visit and fill in the columns accurately.
All ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ grade anganwadis to be visited. The outreach should focus more intensively on ‘B’ grade anganwadis, as there is greater scope for quick results there. Strengthening all anganwadis, whatever their grade, to reach the top will be the endeavour. The grading of all the centres should be reviewed once in six months.
Friends of Anganwadis must be reactivated, or formed anew where they do not exist, and developed into forums that nourish all the 109 anganwadis. Friends of Anganwadis are groups of mothers who support the anganwadi worker in teaching children, relieving her of some of her work burdens.
• Community meetings to be held mandatorily, and in the presence of education officials.
The team is invigorated and has chalked out a work plan, on the basis of which they are visiting anganwadis, which they have always been doing, but now, with complete focus on the action points. During community visits, the team targets parents, self-help groups and the energising of Bal Vikas Samithis (BVS) to make them aware of the need to create model anganwadis in their areas. The team visited 300 households; organised 15 parents’ meetings and met 48 BVS members. They have collected the child tracking formats from all the anganwadis, which will determine the number of children who have moved to school, the new admissions, and the actual number present. 
On Many Fronts
Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation, and Shankar Narayan met with Ashok Shetter, the Principal of BVB Engineering College, who extended his support to Akshara and said he would send his students to volunteer for Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP). 
Ashok Kamath and Shankar Narayan also met Naveen Jha, CEO, Deshpande Foundation, at his office in Hubli and got an understanding of what the organisation is currently doing.
The District Facilitator trained 27 private school teachers in Akshara’s Mathematics Programme. The two-day training was well-received by the teachers and they were eager to implement the programme’s methods in their classrooms. 
Angelina, the District Facilitator, held a meeting with Nagaralli, who supports Akshara’s work in Kushtagi and Mundargi Blocks in an advisory role, on how to get data from all the schools in Gadag, Dharwad and Koppal Districts. The District Facilitator of Mundargi Block, Vijayalakshmi, was present. Nagaralli took on the responsibility of collecting the data as soft copy, which Angelina and Vijayalakshmi will cross-verify with education officials. 
Also decided at the meeting was that there would be a concerted effort to enlist supporters for Akshara by visiting all the blocks in these districts along with Nagaralli and persuading the heads of different colleges to join hands.

LEGO travels to Hubli-Dharwad!

Angelina Gregory, District Coordinator shares her experience at the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi in Dharwad.

The kids at play….

Akshara Foundation introduced the Lego program in Dharwad for the first time by selecting four Anganwadis from each circle. This effort was undertaken mainly to create an interest among the children, parents and the workers in order to make the Anganwadis attractive. All the four Anganwadis are doing their best. They ensure the participation of the parents, the young girls from the community and carry on the program. Among the four, the Siddarameshwarnagar Anganwadi from Hubli has been able to conduct the Lego program the best so far.

Siddharameshwarnagar, is 20kms away from Dharwad, and houses about 300 households. Some “Devdasi” families reside here in this area. Some Devdasis’ children have taken the admission in the Anganwadi center. Most of these children would be irregular to the center in spite of telling the parents. Earlier the Anganwadi would run in a temple but a few months back, with the help of Mrs. Ratna, the Field Coordinator of Akshara and the parents, Netrawathi requested the community leaders and heads to provide an independent place to run the Anganwadi. Now, it has been shifted to a temporarily built shed. Netrawathi feels happy and independent now.

Netrawathi the Anganwadi worker is 52 years of age and has served in rural areas for twenty six years. From the past six years, she is serving in the Siddrameshawarnagar, Anganwadi Hubli. Along with a helper she has struggled to get the children to the center. The worker is very punctual. She has time to spend with the children. She never writes any registers in her working hours. She attends to the pregnant women in the community only after 2 PM. The children at her center know to say the rhymes well complete with actions. They also know their numbers, Kannada and English alphabets well. 4 year olds know to read the simple words. They tell stories spontaneously.

The Lego program has been creatively used by Netrawathi. Every day after lunch Mrs. Netrawathi mingles with the children along with the Lego kit. During my visit to this center, I remained unspoken to see the children’s excitement towards the kit. Every kid there roared in a chorus shouting “LEGO!!! LEGO!!!” Wow! The enthusiasm of the kids was great to see. The worker, told the children to remove the kits from the box, about 5 children went near the box and started removing the Lego materials one by one with their tiny hands at the same time the others stood shouting ‘Lego!!, Lego!!’ no one touched the kit until the teachers told them to do so. These were a bunch of highly disciplined kids who left me amazed.

Two groups were formed for the children of 4+ years and the other group was for children of 2+ years. 4+ years group was managed by the Anganwadi worker and 2+ years children were managed by the helper.
The play started with the grip game along with the teacher. There was rapt attention then, with all the kids trying hard to concentrate. No one made any noise. I asked them “why are you all keeping quiet”? The children replied,” if we talk, may lose the game”. No child wanted to become out of the game.

Children enjoying the grip game with their teacher

The teacher asked the color, every one said the names of the color one by one.
Communication game was wonderful to note. Children sitting in a pair, while one child gave instructions the other dilligently followed it and created a model.

Children playing communication game in a pair

Shwetha and Rakesh enacted and narrated the story of the thirsty crow.Making the train and the tower building was another wonderful thing. No child complained of hunger even though it was past 2.30 PM. They were all immersed and engrossed in their game.

Interactions with the parents assured me that the parents were equally happy and enthusiastic about sending their kids to the anganwadi. The happy parents also added that Lego was the reason why children didn’t miss school anymore. Infact, they seemed more than eager to go to school every day morning. The hard work and the efforts put forward by the teacher and the helper were appreciated by the parents. The helper is also motivated, that she hopes to be a part of the Akshara training soon. The Anganwadi trainer is all excited about the Lego kit.  This is the first time in her 32 years of service has she witnessed creative teaching like this. The Teaching Learning Material, the work books and the Lego kit have redefined teaching methods she says. The happy faces of the children and the parents make her happy.

The teacher attributes that the Akshara’s support has helped her in more than one ways. The attendance of the children has increased and so has the community involvement. Some parents are regular to the centre and play Lego games along with their children. Mr. Nagappa, a community leader has donated a mirror, mats and plates for the Anganwadi. The Deputy Director of Women and Child Welfare Department, Ms.Annapurna has appreciated the workers efforts and support of Akshara.  Netrawathi’s name has been nominated for the award as the best Anganwadi worker by the Department. Netrawathi, with tears of joy in her eyes says, “Thanks to Akshara for all the support and materials. She also extends her thanks to Mrs. Ratna, the Field Co-coordinator for helping her make this Anganwadi such a joyous place.