[WAIC co-founder and director Meera Marthi shares her personal experience training Anganwadi workers in Telangana in early 2021. The training was about #SafeSurrender to help prevent child abandonment and ensure that children safely reach the legal adoption process.]
My day started at 5AM that morning. I was nervous, excited, a bit wary and raring to go and do something I have never done before, mixed emotions really.
I was going to the Narayanpet district in the southern part of Telangana to do a workshop on the Safe Surrender law with 54 Anganwadi Teachers. Thanks to the collector of the district, WAIC got the opportunity to start a unique partnership with the district to train their 750 Anganwadi teachers on Safe Surrender and how to disseminate the information at the grass root level.
I left early, around 6:45 as Google said “3.5” hours and I had to reach by 10:30 AM. I had the posters in place, a short film ready for them to watch and my own notes on the role-plays and the talk itself. The sun was rising slowly, and I watched patches of fields, thatched roof huts, small villages, and small businesses pass by as we reached Narayanpet by 9:45. Surprise, I was early!!!
I was received by the District Welfare Office, Mr. Reddy and reached the Collectorate office by 10:15AM. And what do I see, a sea of brown, around 50 Anganwadi Teachers all dressed in their trademark uniform of brown saris, arriving on time for a training to be held at 11:00 AM. I had goosebumps to see these dedicated teachers who go door-to-door to do their household surveys of each family’s health and general well-being in front me with eager, enthusiastic faces wondering about the new workshop that they have been called to attend.
It was a surreal experience. As I conducted the workshop, I realised that not many people are aware that the Indian Juvenile Justice Act 2015 allows a parent/guardian to surrender a child safely and legally in a specialised adoption agency or in front of the District Child Welfare Committee. It was critical for the Anganwadi teachers and their supervisors to be aware of this information. Who better to disseminate this information than these conscientious front-line workers who go door-to-door, know every family by name, their family structure, condition, and environment!
I started with training them about different situations where a family should be given the Safe Surrender information:
If they find that a child is being neglected/abused and the parents/guardians are unwilling to raise the child.
If a child has lost both parents and the relatives are unwilling to raise the child.
If a family is unable to raise a child due to various reasons including poverty, societal issues, in need of care themselves, or unwillingness to raise the child.
If a family leaves a child in a shelter with the intention of never bringing the child back because they do not want to raise the child.
Then came the role-plays. I asked for volunteers, one representing a family and one representing an Anganwadi teacher. I gave them different situations as to how they will make the families aware about Safe Surrender. It was a pleasant surprise how well they took to these role-plays and enacted them with sincerity, earnestness, and a bit self-consciously.
I handed out the posters to each of them as a ready reckoner for them to remember the workshop and the details of the same. Finally, I asked them if they will do their part in helping children reach forever families. I requested them that as front-line workers they have the power of information dissemination with them and to ensure that every family they are responsible for is made aware of safe surrender.
Some nodded, some said “yes”, some smiled, but everyone understood the importance of this awareness campaign. I bid good-bye to them with the hope that they will do their part in helping us spread awareness about Safe surrender. I left Narayanpet with a smile on my face, a spring in my step and with the satisfaction that I had made 54 teachers aware about Safe Surrender, who can spread this to close to 50,000 people. That is huge!
I went back to different parts of Narayanpet 3 more times and trained close to 350 Anganwadi teachers and a few Asha workers. Everywhere I was received with enthusiasm, excitement, and eagerness to know more about the campaign and how they can help!
We hope the Telangana government continues the ‘train-the-trainer’ model for educating Anganwadi teachers and Anganwadi supervisors on Safe Surrender in the coming year. This is just the beginning of our efforts to reach the masses and protect every vulnerable child.