National Youth Day Special: Empowering youth from slums for a better life (UPDEED )

Every year on January 12, India observes National Youth Day, as Swami Vivekananda, one of the most significant figures in Indian history, was born on this day. The Indian government designated National Youth Day in 1984 and has celebrated it annually since then.

Adolescence is a critical phase between childhood and the time one turns into a youth. According to the National Health Mission, this phase also marks a wide range of health issues among young people, including Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), substance abuse, sexual violence, consequences of early marriages, pregnancies, etc.

This group needs adequate investment through interventions in health, education, counselling, and guidance is imperative. During this phase, one of the critical supports that is acknowledged to play a significant role in the overall development of adolescents is from their families. However, it is also well acknowledged that families suffering from financial stress and deteriorating health may not be in a proper mind space to provide adequate care to their young ones.

The curious case of Pooja

“My parents used to work as bangle sellers to provide for the family of five. For the longest time, we were the victims of poor health because of poor hygiene practices at our house. Due to the traditional mindset prevailing in our house, we used to wash our hands in mud after using the toilet and abstained from speaking to the regularly visiting ASHA workers regarding our health,” said Pooja (name changed to maintain privacy), a 17-year-old child from the Kaushalya Nagar Slum, Firozabad district, Uttar Pradesh.

“This led to continuous deterioration in our health, and we started falling ill frequently. The meagre income from selling bangles used to be spent mostly on health-related expenditures, leaving us in the trap of poverty permanently,” she added.

Considering the rampant issues in the slum related to health and livelihood, ChildFund intervened in the Kaushalya Nagar slum of Firozabad district, Uttar Pradesh, in 2014 with its integrated program that supports children while strengthening families and their immediate community structure.

The program is designed to provide comprehensive education, health, livelihood and child protection support. The interested families undergo needs assessment and are counselled before appropriate interventions are planned. In the case of Pooja and her family, interventions on health and livelihood were planned and considered the need of the hour.

Following the health-related concerns of the family, the community mobilizers encouraged Pooja’s family to enable her enrollment in behaviour change training on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) with special emphasis on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

The training witnessed the distribution of hand washes and sanitary pads to ensure the family practices improved hygiene for better health. Apart from WASH-related training, the organization also encouraged her to participate in sessions that apprise adolescents of Child Rights.

Pooja said, “My mother encouraged me to enrol in a series of training sessions that not only broadened my understanding of the importance of sexual and reproductive health but also instilled significant knowledge about my rights. Despite the growth in my learning curve, financial crisis at home often used to keep us occupied and worried about the future,” said Pooja.

This was when the family was informed about ChildFund’s livelihood program, and Sunita, Pooja’s mother, decided to enrol herself in the 21-day rigorous ‘Sustainable Livelihood Development Training Program (SLDP)’.

She opted to set up a business selling clothes, and her plan was assessed to be profitable. As a result, she was selected to receive INR 20,000 as financial assistance to set up her small business enterprise. Currently, her diligence and perseverance enabled her to earn INR 5,000 per month from her shop.

Towards improving parenting

Significant improvement in health standards and living conditions due to sustainable income generation led the family to explore the importance of creating a conducive environment to facilitate safe child-parent interactions.

This was when Sunita enrolled herself in yet another innovative program of ChildFund called the Families Matter Program (FMP) under its health initiative. FMP aims to promote positive parenting and effective child-parent communication. It includes generating awareness of sexuality, the risk of child sexual abuse and gender-based violence. It supports the parents to communicate important issues like sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy prevention etc., to their children, thereby preventing adolescents from falling into risk situations and reducing the cases of separation from their families.

“Families play a vital role in the development of a child. As parents of three children, my husband and I struggled to meet ends. The adversities at home made it difficult for us to cater to the emotional needs of our growing children. I almost accepted poverty as our reality until I heard of ChildFund. The interventions provided made me self-reliant and helped me develop emotional security to provide better for my family. I feel that I am now emotionally available to my children,” said a satisfied mother, Sunita.

“We now understand the significance of strengthening parent-child relationships and enabling a conducive environment to help our children reach out to us concerning them, including sexuality and reproductive health. We are better informed about sensitive topics such as sex and sexuality. I am glad my child, Pooja, attends such sessions and discusses issues concerning her openly with me. She is also excelling in her studies. As a mother, I could not ask for more,” she added.

Positive impact on families

ChildFund, thus far, has conducted multiple sessions on Families Matter in Firozabad with the active participation of more than 500 parents and 150 children. The participants have been sensitized on family planning, immunization, institutional delivery, and the sexual reproductive health of adolescents.

Similar integrated approaches that ensure the holistic development of a child can enable numerously deprived, excluded and vulnerable children. This will further ensure that they become able, confident and responsible adults. Hence, stakeholders must consider this and attempt to replicate such models.

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