Voices from the field: CommCare and the struggle against poverty and inequality
February 11, 2013 - India
by Natasha Azad
The following is a blog written by a guest contributor from our program partner in India, Dimagi, Natasha Azad, Field Manager:
My father is from a small, no-name town in desperately underdeveloped central India. Though my father emigrated to the United States over 40 years ago, we still manage to go back to India each year and visit his brothers on their estate in our no-name town. The town has historically only been recognized as the birth place of cinema genius Kishore Kumar or for the massive train junction that is its raison d’etre. More recently, the town and greater district of Khandwa have become infamous for having some of the highest child undernutrition rates in the country at nearly 60% of children under five. I came back to Khandwa as a graduate student seeking answers to such unacceptable malnutrition rates and ended up unpacking the relationship between food security and nutrition outcomes among the tribal population in the district.
photo: Amelia training RMF CNEs
As a Dimagi field manager, I was pleased to learn that we partner with an NGO working in Khandwa on just these sorts of issues. I had the opportunity to visit five districts in the so-called “tribal belt” of south western Madhya Pradesh – from Jhabua to Khandwa – with our partner agency the Real Medicine Foundation (RMF). For the last several years now, RMF has been working to eradicate child undernutrition in the area by employing and training local women from various communities as Community Nutrition Educators (CNE’s).
photo: Commcare 2.0 training
The 60 CNEs in the 5 districts have been using CommCare for over a year now in their upward battle against pervasive malnutrition. Our Dimagi team rocked up in Jhabua ready to update the CNEs’ CommCare application with new version as well as carry out a comprehensive research initiative concerning data outliers. Our entourage consisted of Amelia (senior field engineer), Sanghya (researcher), Sharon (data analyst), Sai Jai (field manager in Thailand) and myself (a brand new field manager). We were hosted by RMF’s country director, Michael Matheke-Fisher and his two program managers Pratik Phadkule and Auntim.
We spent each day of our 5 day trip in a different district with a different set of CNEs. Most had experience with CommCare while some were new to RMF and thus the application. I was immediately struck by how each group of CNEs consisted of empowered and extremely charismatic women. They had a commanding presence, a deep understanding of the challenges they faced and an enthusiasm for using technology to aid their work. It was clear that this demeanor was due to a variety of different factors, one of which was their work with RMF and their role in the communities they work in.
photo: Commcare 2.0 training the Jhabua CNEs
I had a great time during the trainings, guiding the CNEs through the application and learning from the RMF staff about their efforts in the area. I was particularly impressed with RMF’s role in drafting the districts’ plans for the Atal Bal Poshan Mission, Madhya Pradesh’s lofty new policy to coordinate efforts among different government departments to mitigate the nutrition crisis in the state.
photo: Commcare Team with RMF
In the face of such a dire situation, it’s encouraging to see groups like RMF making grassroots efforts as well addressing structural inequalities to alleviate nutrition outcomes in the region. Moreover, it was exciting to see how technology can play a role in addressing the nutrition crisis by gathering information, counseling families with malnourished children and reinforcing local health systems.
photo: RMF Director of Programs for India, Michael Matheke-Fischer"
I see CommCare acting as a tremendous tool in the struggle against poverty and inequality by allowing local people access to technology and information as well as aiding governments and civil society partners to monitor and understand trends and patterns in health outcomes as well as other development indicators.
If you are interested in hearing more about our initiative with Dimagi, visit the RMF website here
If you are interested in donating to our Malnutrition Initiative, click here
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