By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
For Manju Sharma, 37, life once was structured around taking care of her two children and doing daily household chores. Until a few years ago, she had little idea of the world outside her home in the Firozabad district in northern India. But since she began working at an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center supported by ChildFund India, her definition of life has changed. Now she is a self-assured and respected woman in her community.
Initially, Manju was nervous about accepting a job outside the home. Staying away from her children and husband for more than six hours a day was a challenge, but she accepted an offer to work with the ECD program in 2007 because of her passion for helping children living in poverty.
“It was not a very smooth start for me, but my affection for small kids helped to overcome my fears gradually,” Manju recalls. “Soon I was able to strike a chord among the children, and they started loving my presence.”
Manju received basic training on maintaining good hygiene among the center’s 35 children ages 2 to 5.
“I also took training on how to monitor growth of the children attending the ECD center,” she explains. “Now, I am fully aware about the issue of malnutrition and often lead educational sessions for mothers, giving them tips about how they can take proper care of their children’s health.”
She adds, “People now know me as Manju Didi [sister], and I love the respect they shower on me.”
For 26-year-old Avdhesh Jadaun, a teacher at an ECD center in the nearby Andand Nagar locality, teaching was a passion she had held since childhood.
Avdhesh, who has a master’s degree in psychology, has a desire to see all children in her locality receive an education and grow up to be self-sufficient young adults — a goal that ChildFund also wishes to achieve.
“Since my school days, I wanted to work for poor children, especially helping them complete their basic education. Now, ChildFund gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, and I am very happy,” Avdhesh says.
ChildFund India’s local program manager Bikrant Mishra says, “Avdhesh and Manju are two of our most committed staffers who not only take care of the ECD centers but also actively participate in our maternal and child health-related activities.”
ChildFund currently runs nine ECD centers in Firozabad. More than 600 children up to age 5 are cared for in these centers. Mothers and pregnant women are also given important training on pre- and postnatal health care that includes immunization, breastfeeding, nutritional food intake and regular check-ups.
“And these teachers often act as health workers in their own capacities and help us deliver better service among the communities,” Mishra adds.
Although Manju and Avdhesh are paid modest salaries for their hard work, they are satisfied when they see the children play, sing and dance happily around them.
“The children are so sincere; often their gratitude is enough,” Avdhesh explains.
Manju says, “The satisfaction I draw from working with these innocent children is incomparable. It’s priceless.”