Helping Mothers, Babies and Families in India Have a Healthy Start Together

By Liliana Cervantes

A woman’s health during pregnancy is of vital importance to both her baby’s development and her own ability to stay healthy. However, mothers in some parts of the world struggle to keep themselves and their babies healthy during this critical time.

In the state of Bihar, India, where the River Ganges flows, is a small village called Madhopur Naurangiya. In 2012, Project Concern International (PCI), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), began working to help the village’s mothers and children through the Parivartan project.

Parivartan means “transformation” in Hindi, and by promoting access to newborn care, routine immunization and postpartum family planning among other health services for most marginalized women and their families, this village is being transformed.

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Parivartan project mobilized women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) within the village in an effort to teach the community health, sanitation and nutrition messages. In the first four years of the project, PCI has has reached almost 400,000 women through 26,514 groups across 64 blocks in 8 districts in Bihar.

SHGs are led by local health trainers called Sahelis and are under the auspices of the Government of Bihar (Jeevika). The trainers help group members develop leadership skills, and women receive training on breastfeeding, good sanitation, social advocacy and accountability.

Rani Kumari, a Saheli in Madhopur Naurangiya, helps improve women’s health by teaching mothers how to care for themselves and their children. But initially, she met with resistance in the village. With limited access to transportation and an atmosphere of mistrust, pregnant women in the village refused to have their delivery in a nearby primary health center.

Rani recalls one woman in the village named Jamila Khatoon who strongly objected to seeking government health services and insisted that her pregnant sister, who is landless in the village and has limited resources, give birth at home instead of at the hospital.

“I did not have any knowledge about the importance of health care,” said Jamila.

Today, Jamila works as a secretary of the Ya Ali SHG/Jeevika group and is motivated to provide pregnant woman in her village with better health care services. Rani said she now tends to every pregnant woman in the village and ensures each and every delivery takes place at a health facility.

Tabassum Nisha, a mother of four children, also lives in Madhopur Naurangiya. Her husband owns a small shop selling handmade quilts and mattresses.

Like Jamila, Tabassum was initially opposed to learning about the savings component of SHGs. Parivartan staff took time to explain why savings and broader economic and social empowerment are significant factors for ensuring maternal and child health. In time, she soon understood the power of savings and enjoyed the training offered in the group setting.

Tabassum has been able to successfully apply this knowledge and take out a loan of 25,000 rupees. She used this loan to support her husband’s local quilt and mattress business. She managed her savings and has already repaid 20,000 rupees on her loan.

“Earlier I used to spend 4-5 hours in going round from house to house and convince women about health seeking behaviors and services – but now it hardly takes an hour to do my work,” said Rani. “It’s so easy now, the credit goes to the women from the SHGs like Jamila and Tabassum.”

Women in Madhopur Naurangiya underwent a transformation in their understanding of how to better care for themselves and their newborn children.

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SHGs strengthen the community by empowering most marginalized women like Jamila and Tabassum to care for one another and their families. Parivartan encourages behavior change and inspires communities to take action in improving the lives of pregnant women.

The project’s efforts have successfully created a demand for improved women’s health and are now, after the first four successful years, beingfully integrated within the Government of Bihar’s Jeevika initiative.

Janine Schooley, PCI Senior Vice President for Programs, expressed her excitement about these results. “By integrating health, nutrition, economic and social empowerment and fostering the convergence of demand and supply sides by giving marginalized women a strong voice in mobilizing and accessing quality family health services – PCI, Jeevika, BMGF and other key stakeholders will truly be making history,” said Janine.

Going forward, many more women in Bihar – projected to be one million by 2020 – will be able to adopt safer, healthier behaviors for themselves and their newborns, truly a transformative change, and one with tremendous potential for lasting impact at scale.

By: Liliana Cervantes, Marketing and Communications Intern, PCI