‘Angans’ — gardens or courtyards — have for centuries played an important role in the social milieu of rural India. These are community spaces, where family members gather and discuss daily events, where the elders pass on their knowledge to the young and where guests and visitors congregate and exchange ideas.
The concept of ‘anganwadi’ — or a village courtyard — took shape in 1975, when the Indian government launched the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, one of the world’s largest programs for early childhood development. The objectives of the scheme were multi-fold, but specific to the anganwadis, the aim was to improve the nutritional and health status of children in the age-group 0-6 years and lay the foundation for proper psychological, physical and social development of the child. Towards these goals, the services included supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, pre-school non-formal education and nutrition and health education. The anganwadi centers are the platforms for delivering the services and are run by the anganwadi workers.
Given the Essar Foundation’s focus on rural development, there is significant interaction between Essar Foundation volunteers and anganwadis at several locations. For instance, on December 16, 2012, Essar volunteers enchanted the children and workers at two anganwadi centers in Singach Village of Jamnagar District in Gujarat.
Essar Foundation held its sixth ‘employee volunteering’ initiative at Jamnagar and volunteers participated in a creative exercise, brightening the anganwadis with cheerful murals. They painted emerald parrots against azure blue skies, children playing in sunny parks and gleaming fishes cutting through blue waters.
Expert resource persons Katta Babu, and Taramati Padwal, who specialize in early childhood education, were there to guide the volunteers on what visual would help not only to make the anganwadi environment more attractive but also inspire curiosity in the children and serve as learning tools.
Essar Foundation lays strong thrust on education and, especially, on Early Childhood Education (ECE), an area of education that has received special attention since the times of Maria Montessori in the last decade of the 19th century. The Foundation believes that care and attention in early childhood is crucial to holistic growth and development and, hence, it focuses on working with anganwadis and the ICDS, especially in enhancing ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education).
The Foundation realizes that space plays a very important role in exciting the child to learn and hence one of its initiatives is space design and enhancement, enabling children to enter a world full of colors and imagination, thereby creating a fertile ground for his or her creative growth.
For many of the volunteers who participated in the December 16 exercise, this was a first time experience in mural painting. Experiencing the village environment was another first for many. It was an experience that the volunteers will cherish for a lifetime.
In April 2013, the Essar Foundation, in association with local officials, decided to develop 25 modern, pre-schools called ‘Nandghar’ (literally, ‘home for children’), at anganwadi centers located in 15 villages around the Essar Oil refinery at Vadinar in Gujarat.
The Nandghar project has taken up changing the physical appearance of the anganwadi both internally and externally, including elements of ‘building as learning aid’. This initiative has also endeavored to transform open, dry and barren spaces into delightful play areas and kitchen gardens, with paved pathways, making it appealing happy spaces for children.
A Gujarat government project for anganwadis, the ‘Nandghar’ model envisages the refurbishing of existing centers into a child-friendly space, making them attractive through the use of mural paintings, pictorial depiction of stories, alphabets and numbers on walls, and other interesting learning aids.
Essar Foundation is providing skill training to the anganwadi care-givers as well as all the necessary infrastructural facilities including learning kits and toys.