Providing Access to Health and Nutrition for India’s Most Vulnerable
In 2017, three expat women, got together and organized visits to migrant children in camps in Bangalore to see how they could help in some small way. Out of these first visits Links for Migrant Children, a local nonprofit in Bangalore was started by Sara JB, Urvi Jariwala Shah and Sharon Otmar. Their goal is to reach out to the youngest children of migrant communities in Bangalore because the babies and children in migrant communities are the most vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition, disease, and lack of education. For the most part, they have concentrated their effort in the Munnekollal, Krishnappa Garden and Nagavarapalya Communities.
With the help of other volunteers, they conduct monthly health checks for children 0-6 years of age that attend the local Anganwadis in these migrant communities, and often go door to door as well. In addition, Sara, Sharon, and Urvi have organized other important initiatives here, like incorporating government vaccination campaigns because migrants are often overlooked by the government run Primary Health Centers. A few recent initiatives were Pulse Polio vaccination days, deworming campaigns, and general health and vaccination camps for all the children under 6. LMC builds important relationships within these communities to build the families’ trust. By partnering with government agencies, local private hospitals, and other nonprofit agencies, LMC has made some amazing strides to help improve migrant children’s lives and give them a better future.
According to a recent study published by the World Health Organization, “There are almost 1 billion migrants worldwide, with 214 million international migrants and another 740 million internal migrants moving within countries”. In India alone, internal migration is estimated at 400 million people, and effects women and children the most. To put that number in perspective that is more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, and Australia. With just about 30% of India’s population living in migrant communities too many children are not receiving what they need to thrive. We see many of these migrant communities and the families that live there on our daily commutes. The blue tarps and haphazard partial brick structures that we drive by are the homes to thousands of families working and living in poverty all around us. In cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, these communities comprise a large part of the local population. With all the economic growth in Bangalore, you might be asking why is it happening here?
In a report by the United Nations and Unesco for Community Radio they explain, “In India, states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Tamil Nadu are seen as source states, from which a large number of people move out in search of better opportunities. Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka are seen as destination states, where many of these migrants go”. Bangalore’s growth in the last 5-10 years has attracted millions of new people, most don’t speak Kannada, and they often lose critical government aide when they move to a new state.
While the issue of internal migration in India has reached epic proportions, it is not a new problem. Trying to deal with this issue nationwide, the Indian government aimed to provide better standards of health for migrant families back in 1975. Called Anganwadis, they were created by the Indian Government as a part of the Integrated Child and Development Services Program. With the aim to alleviate child hunger and malnutrition in rural areas, migration camps and slums in cities, Anganwadis offer help in the form of informal pre-school education programs for children before they enter government schools. They disperse government food, as well as some healthcare. The Anganwadi workers help with pregnant mothers and post-natal care as well. Unfortunately, Anganwadi workers are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers that need help, and sadly, they are not paid equally to other government workers. This underfunding of a vital program for migrant communities means the programs don’t accomplish as much as they could, leaving too many migrant children behind.
That’s where Links for Migrant Children is trying to make a difference. They are filling a vital gap in the most basic healthcare for the youngest children. Malnutrition and disease and undiagnosed and untreated health problems mean migrant children don’t fare as well. They can fail to meet their growth milestones and are generally underweight. And a lack of proper nutrition is a problem for their developing brains at their young age.
The founders of LMC have helped hundreds in a short time. In February of 2018, Sarah, Sharon and Urvi organized their volunteers to participate in “National Deworming Day”. Overlooked by “government sponsored medical dispersement programs,” Munnekulllal benefitted from “the amazing Links for Migrant Children volunteers, a government health inspector, a social worker and teachers from Simridhdhi Trust’s Bridge Program, over 300 children in Munnekullal and a nearby school received deworming medication, parasite prevention education, nutritious snacks, soap for effective hygiene, and were assessed for malnutrition”. By providing deworming medicine to kids and soap to the mothers for proper hygiene, diseases are prevented and health improves for the entire family.
And only a month later, Links for Migrant Children held a very successful “Polio Vaccine Campaign” in Munnekollal migrant community. In one day, due to partnering with local volunteers as well as community members they were able “to bring the pulse polio vaccine to over 320 children in this migrant community. In addition to setting up a vaccine camp in one of the empty shelters, mobile teams went door to door vaccinating children”. They partnered with Sahayya NGO, who brought ‘healthy snacks’ as well as other key medical professionals who donated the medicine.
While Links for Migrant Children is still a rather new enterprise for these three expats— their work is the key to a healthy future for these kids. Immunization programs provide invaluable health prevention measures. The World Health Organization states, “There is arguably no single preventive health intervention more cost-effective than immunization”. Working in Bangalore’s migrant communities and providing vaccinations means LMC’s small grass roots programs are preventing future suffering often associated with many diseases like polio or measles, and studies show that better health outcomes improve educational opportunities for these migrant children too.
Before founding Links, OWC members, Sharon and Urvi were working with local Anganwadis, and Sarah was a volunteer nurse for Sunshine school, a French association that supports hygiene projects in slum schools as well as working with other NGOs. When she met Urvi and Sharon, the three of them decided to focus primarily on health and nutrition for children in Bangalore’s migrant camps. While most internal migrants are often denied basic human rights, these three hard working expats are helping the women and children who live in these communities feel more at home with their well planned health checks and by providing the most basic necessities to their survival.
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
Find out more about current LINKS Projects here
Note: A version of this article was originally published in May 2018 in the OWC Rangoli.
World Health Organization, “Improving the Health and Well-Being of Children of
Migrant Workers.” (1 April 2018). Http://Www.Who.Int/Bulletin/Volumes/95/12/17-196329/En/
Unesco, “Internal Migration: A Manual for Community Radio Stations,” (1 April 2018). Http://Unesdoc.Unesco.Org/Images/0023/002318/231862E.Pdf
LMC Facebook. (5 April 2018). Https://Www.Facebook.Com/Linksformigrantchildren/
LMC Facebook. (1April 2018). Https://Www.Facebook.Com/Linksformigrantchildren/
World Health Organization, “10 Facts on Immunization,” (1 April 2018). Http://Www.Who.Int/Features/Factfiles/Immunization/En/
Photo by Nischal Masand