With the responsibility of 12 villages, Gram panchayat Facilitator (GPF) Geeta, working in the the Food and Agroecological Approaches to reduce Malnutrition project explains why is it is important that she had an intensive engagement with the community in order win over their trust and improve their dietary diversity. Working in Kandhma Gram Panchayat of Gudari Block which was more than an hour away from the town area of Gudari, she says, “It seemed impossible to stay so far away from my field area at the time when I had no personal transport and had to mobilize the villages to improve dietary diversity. I realized soon that I cannot do this work by visiting the village like an officer does, Can I now?”
Food and Agroecological Approaches to reduce Malnutrition Project is an attempt to improve the Dietary Diversity of the adivasi and other communities in 8 Blocks of Rayagada district, covering with over a lakh housholds. The project, is large in scale, very data driven and keeps track of the several activities done by Geeta and other GPFs in the project. From mobilizing communities to preparing nutrition gardens to doing home visits for pregnant, lactating mothers and adolescent girls and helping communities to access their nutritional entitlements GPF have a long to-do list.
Some of questions that can pop in anybody’s head would be, how does a Gram Panchayat Facilitator like Geeta or anyone collect all this information? how do we prepare the strategies required for the project? Living farms with the support of Social Cops has been using the Collect Apps to record all this information. This data helps us plan and strategize better towards improving dietary diversity of the communities. The video below will give you a sense of how the data is collected through this offline app and how it works.
One can understand the basic working of the GPFs who use the Collect Apps to collect data that is saved in the MIS system. However, there is more to this than meets the eyes. Armed with an android phone Geeta started visiting all her villages, some of them very deep into the forests, to facilitate PLA-LANN meetings but eventually decided that she must stay in the villages to understand the adivasi families better and do her work. She stayed in Pariguba village for 8 months where she decided to stay in a make shift tin shed house that the construction workers working on the road near by had made for themselves and left it when they finished work. That land was owned by another villager whom she paid Rs.300 rent every month. During rainy seasons, there were times when she had to swim across to reach the villages near the Kanduguda Dam. Without reaching these villages, how will I manage to do PLA LANN meetings and make sure people make nutrition gardens? asks Geeta, while explaining how she managed to swim across. Staying the night in Pariguba and travelling to other villages was a good solution but she had to face many hurdles on her way due to the difficult terrain, travelling at night and changing dialects of the adivasi communities in different areas.. Thinking that all of this part of the job she persisted on mobilizing people by staying the night in different villages.
How simple it looks with a phone in one hand and the respondent ready to give you answers on the other! Unfortunately, life was never so simple for our Gram Panchayat Facilitators, most adivasi families leave the village by 6am in the morning to do agricultural activities sometimes on plain land and sometimes on the mountains and return after 6pm. All the meetings conducted, home visits done and nutrition gardens made abide by this schedule which makes it especially difficult for female GPFs as they are unable to come back to their homes. Moreover, it is a misconception that the data collectors only need to understand the App itself for data collection, a limited understanding of the android phone, its memory capacity, its format and other details often lead to mistakes and deletion and difficulties in storing of data. There have been 4 rounds of Tech-trainings but yet the inconsistencies in understanding and using digital technologies created road blocks for many of our staff. The GPFs and Block coordinators were chosen based on their language capabilities and experience of community field work. When the work of improving dietary diversity is so important it becomes a task for the team to decide its priorities. From a macro perspective of advocacy, impact data is crucial but from a point of view being able to make real changes in people’s lives one tends to ignore technical capabilities.
GPFs like Geeta and Block coordinators have over time mastered how to use the Collect App and send accurate data. However, what looks like a data point in an excel sheet might be equivalent to sometimes a 3 hour walk to a village and a night stay, sometimes a long journey with someone following you, and sometimes a swim to reach an obscure village. As we reach half way through our project, we see the struggles of our field staff as integral to this journey of securing nutrition and creating evidence. With this monsoon we would be making 50 to 60 thousand nutrition gardens that will help in securing dietary diversity and in turn nutrition of our partnering communities. Each data point and GIS location of nutrition gardens that would flash on our dash board would be the reflection of the dedication, effort, persistence and struggles of our 180 odd field staff.
This blog post is for those foot soldiers behind data who help us draw graphs, tables and dashboards! 🙂