Ideas. Nobody has a patent on them. What matters at the end of the day is execution and one can always leave behind his/her imprints through their work.
This line of thought helped Bidyapathi Ray, an SBI Youth for India (YFI) fellow find his calling at the Barefoot College.
The SWRC (Social Work and Research Centre) looks after the running of balwadis (rural crèches) for children of labourers who work under the MGNREGA and in farms. Each crèche has 25-30 children from the ages of 6 months to 6 years and is managed by two balsevikas (caretakers and teachers) who look after the overall welfare of the children, right from education down to health and hygiene.
During his field visits to the crèches, Bids (short for Bidyapathi) got to know about Amritchuran, an indigenous food mix made inhouse by the balsevikas and fed to the children. As the name suggests Amritchuran (divine powder) is a wholesome mix of wheat grains, bengal gram, peanuts, sesame seeds and jaggery powdered down to an easy to consume portion that helps provide nourishment to children.
The situation presented itself backwards to Bids wherein the solution appeared before the problem did. To understand the impact and importance of Amritchuran, he went in search of the numbers that would help him understand the gravity of this situation.
The reported statistics were staggering – 44% children below 5 years are underweight and 72% of the infants in India are anaemic while in Rajasthan around 34% of the children are severely malnourished.
To combat this issue the balsevikas resorted to the use of Amritchuran as a dietary solution. Amritchuran is an age-old recipe that has stood the test of time and is a sustainable solution to address anaemia among women and children in the state. Thus to encourage its preparation and use, the Barefoot College taught women how to make it at home. However, this did not work because the women at home were unable to find time from having to attend to farming, animal husbandry and household related work.
Typically Amritchuran was made by the balsevikas themselves and in order to do so one of them had to go to the mill to get the grains ground into flour. This led to a break in the learning activities at the crèche while she was away.
Bids felt he could intervene by helping setup a dedicated production unit that would be able to produce Amritchuran efficiently and with the desired quality. It would be an important item checked off the to-do-list of balsevikas. They have their hands full and could use the time elsewhere. This was also on the wish list of Barefoot College. Bids went about the research for his project – a women-based social enterprise aimed at producing and marketing Amritchuran.
The production of Amritchuran on a large scale was inevitable given its benefits and the sheer simplicity of its ingredients. Even though this was a new venture, the inherent product was legendary. Dr. Bhattacharya Sahab helped provide the much needed insights on the vision and mission of Amritchuran 30 years ago. This was key information because it helped understand the requirements of a venture such as this. To back this up were the findings of Dr. Monalisa Padhee, an ex-SBI YFI fellow who had closely researched if Amritchuran as a health solution really worked or not. Dr. Padhee is currently an important part of the core team at Barefoot College and works with the Health and Enriche teams on existing and upcoming initiatives.
Bids began the field work aided by Prometheu, an ex-SBI YFI fellow who currently works with the Marketing team at Barefoot College. They began with a market survey to better understand the demand and pricing of the product in the villages. The results were both unexpected and encouraging. The villagers said they would value a quality product at the right price.
This was followed by product research. Here too Bids had the expertise of Dr. Gopal Singh ji to help him determine the ideal intake of Amritchuran for children and also oversee the batch preparation process. Sample batches were made and sent to various labs for analysis to gauge the nutritional content of the product. Yet again the results were very encouraging.
The next leg of the project involved identifying local resident women who would actually carry out the production. The team zeroed in on Dhapu Kaki Sa. She has been working with SWRC for several decades in various capacities and divisions. She is a mother of seven children. She genuinely believes in the goodness of Amritchuran based on her personal use. The time one of her daughters was seriously ill and even the doctors said they could not help her, Dhapu Kaki resorted to feeding her Amritchuran four years in a row when she was just a child. It worked and her daughter has grown up to be healthy and just fine. Dhapu Kaki supports the spread of Amritchuran through this project and the economic empowerment it is likely to bring for the women who participate in it.
The setup of the production unit in Tilonia was flagged off. An important aspect of this product is the quality of the raw materials that go into making it. Sourcing these locally was a challenge for Bids, an out of towner. Meghraj ji, who looks after the Health department at Barefoot made sure that Bids found trustworthy vendors in Kishangarh, the market closest to Tilonia. This helped speed up the process considerably and since then the team has supplied 480kg of Amritchuran to 40 crèches in the Silora Block of Ajmer District.
Bids ensured that Dhapu Kaki was well-trained in the production of Amritchuran using the new methods. Given her lack of formal education, he made sure she understood the ratios involved and proportions of each ingredient required to make a certain amount (in kg) of Amritchuran.
The team also carried out training sessions to create awareness on the benefits of Amritchuran and how to make it. This was part of the Barefoot College Enriche program developed for the solar mamas in Tilonia.
The project is far from over with plans for a pilot in and around Brijpura and other activities related to the packaging and marketing of the product still underway.
Apparently back in October 2016 when the fellows embarked on their respective journeys, Bids wondered “Can I do this?”
Six months down the line he has an answer – “I can.”