Balwadis

Seva Mandir runs full-day Balwadis (literally, children’s gardens) for children aged one to five years in areas where government or other childcare services are not available.

Seva Mandir's work on centre-based childcare began in 1986 with the opening of eight Balwadis. The number of Balwadis gradually grew and they spread throughout our work area.  In due course, parents, particularly women, began to tell us that they needed the centres to stay open for longer to allow working mothers to earn essential income or work in the fields to support their families without having to fear for the safety of their children while they were away. Accordingly, we began work on full-day centres on an experimental basis and by 2004 it was decided to make all Balwadis full-day centres. A variety of improvements were introduced,

including in the location and physical infrastructure of the centres, and providing improved educational material and better, more nutritious food.

The Balwadis provide day care, preschool education and nutrition to children aged one to five years. These centres are run for seven hours a day by well trained Sanchalikas (preschool instructors).

The focus on nutrition is particularly important given the high rates of malnutrition in young children. (See Combating Malnutrition). The children are provided with three meals (one hot cooked meal and two ready-to-eat meals) a day, along with micronutrients, thus meeting one third of their calorie and half of protein requirements.

The Balwadis have a structured preschool curriculum to prepare children for school. The parents pay a fee of INR 150 (just over USD 2) per child per year, which is used for the children’s education as decided by the parents and Community Institutions (see Sustainable Development).

The centres are monitored using digital cameras to ensure Sanchalikas’ presence for a full day, and their payment is linked directly with their attendance and the opening of the centres.

Communities contribute in different ways to support the running of these centres, such as providing them with fuel, fetching water, cleaning, repair work, or provision of fruit and vegetables. They also help pay the Sanchalikas. While the degree to which the communities take responsibility for the management and running costs of the Balwadis guarantees the sustainability of our programme, this represents an investment that they cannot sustain on their own, and Seva Mandir will continue to work in partnership with them to allow Balwadis to continue in the long term.


Recognition of the Balwadi model

The Balwadi model is one of the most successful models to address early childcare issues. Over the years, through our continuous efforts, communities have realised this and begun to demand that the state take more responsibility for providing day-care facilities. As a result, many new Anganwadis and mini-Anganwadis have opened in the remote areas and we have been able withdraw Balwadis from those communities.

Seva Mandir’s Balwadi model is recognised as successful by the government. Different representatives of government (planning commission members, government childcare consultants and the district head) have visited our Balwadis. Seva Mandir also leads a childcare network for advocacy called FORCES (Forum for Crèches and Child Care Services) in Rajasthan.

The Balwadi programme was included in India’s 11th Five Year Plan as a model intervention. During the preparation of the 12th Five Year Plan for India, Seva Mandir was a member of two working groups: Working group on Child Survival, and Development and Integrated Child Development Services, constituted under the Indian government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development. As a member, the organisation made valuable contributions, and was instrumental in designing the Girl Child Policy and restructuring of ICDS services.

In 2013, the government restructured ICDS and made provision for converting 5% of Anganwadis into Anganwadi-cum-crèches, which would run for a full day and provide centre-based care to children under three. Seva Mandirs’ role was instrumental in making government include this provision in the restructuring. Although the government has not yet implemented this restructuring programme in Rajasthan, our contribution has created avenues for negotiation with government.

However, the need for early childcare and nutrition in remote and far-flung areas is still evident and Seva Mandir will continue to run its Balwadis where they are needed.


Impact

At present, Seva Mandir runs over 160 full-day Balwadis, including 14 Parvarish Kendras in the work areas of a CSR partner (see Partnering), benefiting more than 4,000 children and their caregivers every year. There has been a 22% reduction in the number of acutely malnourished children, whilst 88% of Balwadi children have been shown to perform well on cognitive indicators, and 78% on language indicators, meaning that children are better prepared for school.

In addition to supporting the development of young boys and girls, the Balwadi programme allows 25,000 mothers to engage in household, livelihood and other work, without worrying about the safety and wellbeing of their children.

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