A bar of soap. A freshly unwrapped razor blade. A plastic sheet. Monumental change can be concealed in the most mundane objects. In the poverty-stricken and tradition-bound tribal villages of Jharkhand, an eastern state of India, these simple things are revolutionizing maternal and newborn health. All of it made possible by an NGO called Ekjut.
At fortnightly meetings, piggybacking on savings cooperatives, Ekjut's trained facilitators (girls from the villages in the target group) discuss good practices in pregnancy and childbirth with the Women of their acquaintance. The ideas for improvement are only shared as light stories and hearsay, and never disseminated as 'medical information'. The atmosphere of easy camaraderie allows a free flow of ideas in every direction and there is much less resistance to new methods that would otherwise be considered too 'modern'. Spending time and speaking with a cross-section of facilitators, mid-wives, mothers-to-be and new mothers showed that they increasingly have faith in these 'new fangled' methods. Instead of Trusting to God and an iffy transport system, they are keeping aside money and identifying ways to communicate with and commute to doctors and hospitals if required. They are trying to eat more than one meal a day and are supplementing the traditional expecting mother diet of boiled rice, raw garlic and salt with nutritious pulses and vegetables. They are paying attention to hygiene and are keen to use the 'delivery kit' that includes soap for the dai to scrub her hands with before assisting at the birth; a sterilized plastic groundsheet for the baby to be delivered on; twine and a new razor blade for tying and cutting the umbilical cord in two places, among many other devices. Many have stopped applying goat dung on the baby's cord stump as they have now heard from their peers that this could result in infection. Changing the mindset is a slow and difficult process, but the mothers (and many fathers) have shown an openness and willingness to try methods that could help improve the health of their babies and themselves. Facing ridicule, resistance and often outright opposition from older family members, they are rising to take charge of their bodies and their well-being as well as that of their offspring.
The impact of their actions, like the Butterfly Effect, will have a far-reaching positive impact even if they don't realize it yet.