Updated: May 13
In the state of Jharkhand, India, climate change is catalysing a series of planetary and environmental health risks. As the result of abnormal rainfall, drought is becoming increasingly more common, with the effects felt almost every other year. Compounding this, conservation is compromised within the state due to the absence of adequate watershed catchment management plans and other schemes of water conservation.
In the midst of these crises, Ekjut strives for equity and environmentally sustainable development. Ekjut – meaning togetherness in several Indian languages – is a civil society organisation working with remote, marginalised and tribal communities in several districts in India. Operating under the core values and themes of “Survive, Blossom, Thrive and Transform” Ekjut’s work to address maternal and child health, nutrition, adolescent health, mental wellbeing and gender-based violence has grown organically over the past almost 2 decades.
Their work seeks to foster meaningful community engagement using principles of participatory learning and action (PLA) to build advocacy and capacity for empowerment of their partnering communities. By taking part in the structured monthly PLA meeting cycles that focus on locally relevant health and development problems, communities have become actively engaged in decision making and proactively participate in problem-solving for their health and other socially relevant issues. This approach has catalysed Ekjut’s impact in improving maternal and newborn health across the state of Jharkhand. In light of this achievement, Ekjut was awarded the title of ‘Public Health Champion’ by the World Health Organisation, India in 2015.
The pandemic has impacted everyone negatively in terms of economy, livelihood and stability, yet in many ways this has provided Ekjut an opportunity to identify its strengths that would have otherwise been overlooked. Ekjut’s involvement in relief-based work was minimal as an organisation, but this challenge was well accepted during the COVID pandemic. As a result, their area of work is becoming more diversified. During India’s 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, Ekjut was engaged in relief work that included distribution of dry rations for stranded workers and ensured that over 1100 children, who would otherwise have been attending the rural day care centres that were now closed continued to receive adequate nutrition through doorstep delivery. Community kitchens were set up in urban areas for the vulnerable population. The long standing engagement through the PLA meetings with communities that built the trust and rapport was crucial in this work.
“COVID has shaped the resilience mechanism to build a supportive community in the face of a crisis”
The core of this blog, however, is to emphasise the innovative and inspiring work undertaken by young people within the organisation. Ekjut highlighted how adolescents can and have played a critical role in building capacities of their partnering communities. In earlier work (2016-2020), Ekjut had supported participatory learning and action cycles (PLA) on nutrition, health and education with groups of adolescent girls and boys as well as young people who acted as group facilitators. This work with young people offered leadership skills which can in handy during the pandemic. During the lockdown phase for example, more than 2529 adolescents developed small nutrition gardens with fruit bearing plants and vegetables to boost the nutritional status of communities at a time of limited food availability. These activities were important for their mental wellbeing because it enabled young people to be outside and be productive at a time when schools were closed, it enhanced their families’ food security and generated income when the excess production could be sold. In landscape restoration efforts, 600 tree saplings were distributed to adolescents that they planted around their village. They also took the lead by distributing more than 10,000 vegetables saplings to villagers.
Innovations continued, with peer facilitators documenting preventive measures, symptoms and ways to overcome stigma and discrimination associated with COVID-19 through wall writing and demonstration in local languages. They were engaged in mobilizing the community during the vaccination drive and participated in call centres to communicate and discuss about preventive measures, promoting for vaccination and for counselling after the vaccination regarding the side effects. Following a training on the use of pulse oximeter, they were entrusted to identify people with difficulty for prompt referral to the health facility.
In addition to the above, the adolescents were involved in distribution of dry rations and medicines to the families with psychosocial disabilities and supported them to make nutrition gardens as a form of rehabilitation.
Ekjut’s transformation during the pandemic could be a lesson for those working with adolescents anywhere in building a resilient world.
To find out more about Ekjut’s work, please visit www.ekjutindia.org