25 November, about 0 degrees in Switzerland, Christmas lights everywhere and not long until the first day of Advent. Mumbai, 32 degrees, a pulsating city, loud, colourful and spicy. This was the change of scenery that I and four IKEA Switzerland colleagues went through when heading off to India for the IWitness trip. We laughed, we learned, we were amazed, we sweated, we got tired, we were grateful, and we were proud when heading back home. Read on to get to know more about day two of our field visit in the district of Aurangabad.
When getting out of the car and entering Daurwadi, a small village in the rural area of Aurangabad, we immediately knew that an interesting two hours lay ahead of us. We were received with flowers, a traditional red dot on the forehead and an introduction speech of what the “family fair” we were about to see is all about.
In the background and all around us were so many kids, fathers, mothers, grandparents, friends and workers playing, doing small workshops, running around and waiting eagerly for us to pass by. It was beautifully colourful, loud, hot and a tiny bit overwhelming. We were invited to the family fair to see what the Anganwadi workers present to the kids’ families: self-made toys they use at the centres, games that easily can be played at home, information about nutrition, growth charts and several workshops on topics like the impact of positive feedback. The aim of family fairs like this is to involve the whole family in early childhood education and support them to grant the best possible childhood to the youngest generation.
We got a glimpse of all the activities and stands, but mostly we took pictures with kids and their parents, played along in different games, shook hands, danced, told our names, waved at kids, got torn in different directions and laughed a lot. We felt like European Bollywood stars—for sure a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was so nice to see all the excited smiles and shining eyes and it felt like we could give something back, just with posing for pictures and playing along with them.
On the other hand, it felt strange to get admired, when all we did was pay them a visit. Aren’t they the real stars? I’m admiring these Anganwadi workers for the great work they’re doing, for allowing these children to grow up with the same fun games and toys we had, just using different materials. They’re not satisfied with the first thing they see and the materials they get from the government but are willing to go one step further and come up with creative ways on how to make toys and games using the resources they have. The project supported by the IKEA Foundation and UNICEF is extensive and can make a valuable contribution. But in the end, these Anganwadi workers are the ones who can bring it to life. And if that’s not worth admiring, what is?
After a lunch break in the open, accompanied by some cows and dogs, we headed off to Sawangi and joined a monthly training of Anganwadi workers, where they discuss the focus for the month and ways to support parents.
We had another traditional warm welcome with flowers and a red dot on the forehead and two girls in beautiful saris even sang a welcome song for us. We joined the circle of Anganwadi workers, all beautifully dressed in light pink and blue saris. After getting to know more about the training, we asked some questions. The sun was about to go down and the last sun rays literally illuminated these women, making them shine even more. We got such a powerful “Yes!” in unison when asking if they were proud to be Anganwadi workers.
Some of them told us that they’re able to relive their own childhood as an Anganwadi worker and make up for things they hadn’t experienced. When asking them if their husbands support their work, the answer was still “Yes”, but way less intense and convincing. We learned that Indian women are usually in charge at home, but when it comes to earning money and providing for the family, the man is responsible.
The wonderful thing was to see that all these women fought for what they believed in: to help children as they grow up and to support their parents. In the end, all their husbands stand behind them, even if it took some time to adjust to it. That’s when I learned that the programme supported by the IKEA Foundation and UNICEF goes way further than just supporting children in having a good childhood. It empowers women to work, to share their knowledge, to be passionate and self-reliant. The sun went down eventually, but these women just kept shining.