Dr Poornima, NAWA, lighting the lamp
Dr Poornima, NAWA, lighting the lamp

9 March 2017, Kaithala: Radio Kotagiri launched its project, Science for Women’s Health and Nutrition, to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th. Supported and catalyzed by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India, the project seeks to explore Community Radio as a tool to reach out to marginalised women who have limited knowledge of health and bring them regular information on various aspects of the subject.

The event was held at the community hall in Kaithala, one of the four sites where this project is being implemented. The other sites are Thavittamedu, Thirichkadi and Pudu Kotagiri. Dr. Shiny Rehel, Programme Coordinator – Keystone Foundation and PI for the project, introduced the project as an initiative to engage with the community, especially the women. She said that the aim was to instil confidence in women of these areas, encouraging them to speak up about issues and develop solutions though networking, discussions and consultations.

The project was launched by Dr. Poornima from the Nilgiri Adivasi Welfare Association, and Poongudi, Officer with Integrated Child Development Services, GoI. During the inaugural address, Dr. Poornima said, “It is important for women to understand that they should take care of their own health along with caring for their family. They have been ignoring their need for physical and mental wellness for too long now.” Ms. Poongodi, Officer with the Integrated Child Development Services, elaborated on the need for proper nutrition for children to thrive and also touched upon different methods of storing and cooking that can negatively impact the nutritional value of a food item.

Radio Kotagiri, the first Community Radio Station in the Nilgiris had started preparing for this project as far back as November 2016 when, based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, training had been given to community members on generating baseline data via questionnaire survey, establishing a rapport with the community, eliciting responses, and honing powers of observation. The baseline survey showed that a significant knowledge gap existed in the communities’ understanding of even the basic aspects of health such as balanced diet, precautions against diseases, and particularly the need to take care of themselves.

Based on the needs as perceived by the baseline survey, Radio Kotagiri will be broadcasting one new 30-minute programme on Women’s Health and Nutrition every day for a year. Radio Kotagiri has trained 12 women from Kotagiri to conceptualize and produce radio programmes. Working in groups, these women have already created more than 40 programmes on a variety of topics including personal hygiene and teenage health issues. Besides the usual debates and group discussion, the women has used creative methods like radio drama and song duels (paatu-edirpaatu) to keep the listeners interested in the issues in question.

Pavitra speaking on women supporting each other for mental wellness
Pavitra speaking on women supporting each other for mental wellness

One  of the issues that the project is addressing is the severe mental stress that women today are living with. Pavitra Vasudevan, Subject Manager – Health, Keystone Foundation, spoke on that subject during the launch. During her interactions with the community, she had understood that women today are overstressed because of increased workload and lack of community support. She spoke of women tending to concentrate on only their responsibility toward the family while neglecting the need to cater to their own mental wellness. She encouraged the women in the community to reach out to one another, not just in times of distress, but also to share their day-to-day life.

Dr. Parthiban, Chief Medical Officer at the Kotagiri Government Hospital, was unable to attend the event but passed on his good wishes saying he was convinced that this project would have a positive impact on the community. He said that, “People come to us without having even a basic understanding of health. Programmes such as the ones that have been developed will definitely give them that knowledge and make it easier for us to give them quality care.”

MC Jeyanthi, Subject Manager - Community Radio, anchoring the event
MC Jeyanthi, Subject Manager – Community Radio, anchoring the event

Jeyanthi and her team at Radio Kotagiri have been working very hard to ensure that the programmes maintain a high standard of quality. They have been brainstorming with the groups preparing programmes, helping them with background research, and facilitating discussions with subject experts. As a result, the women are now expanding their horizons and identifying issues and linkages that they had overlooked before.

Conveying his congratulations to Radio Kotagiri on this initiative, Mr. Vappu, Chairman of the Kotagiri Town Panchayat, said, “There are many welfare schemes for women that are not successful because the women do not come forward to discuss their problems. I am very glad to see such an initiative by Radio Kotagiri where women have taken up the challenge and responsibility to address the health, nutrition and sanitation issues that impact them as well as their surroundings.”