Written by Disa Sjöblom, Senior Social Protection Adviser, Save the Children Finland
In June 2021, Save the Children Finland received a significant donation from Fortum to support the COVID-19 response in our ongoing project in southern Rajasthan, India. The project aims to reduce the poverty and vulnerability of children who belong to the tribal communities in the Dungarpur and Udaipur districts.
South Rajasthan is a poverty-stricken area where people manage their livelihoods from subsistence farming along with migrating as seasonal labourers to the neighbouring state of Gujarat. When illness strikes, many people still resort to faith healers instead of seeking appropriate medical treatment. Child labour is rampant and trafficking of children to neighbouring cotton fields is a common practice in the area. Harsh living and working conditions have resulted in the early death of many adults, especially migrating men, leaving women behind to care for the household economy and children. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation worsened as income opportunities came to a halt and some children lost one or both parents to the virus.
For the last ten years, Save the Children has been working in this area with a two-pronged strategy which was intensified due to the pandemic. Firstly, we have developed an approach in which local governments take responsibility to ensure that people secure access to the many social protection programmes (cash transfers) provided by the government. These programmes include for example widow allowance, disability allowance, caregiver allowance, allowances for construction workers, and insurance benefits for low-income households. Lack of awareness of these programmes and application processes has resulted in low uptake of the schemes leaving the families in greatest need without support. In response to the economic hardships caused by the pandemic, the government increased the coverage as well as the value of many schemes. With Fortum’s support, we have been able to expand this work to new areas in the region and many people have and are still gaining access to the programmes which provide them with a regular income.
Educating local project staff and parents
Secondly, we know that addressing monetary poverty is not enough to combat child poverty. Misconceptions, community trends, traditional beliefs, and lack of adult education are also key drivers of children being deprived of a good start in life and subsequent support needed for their development. Parents are key actors in children’s life and their caregiving skills have a profound impact on children’s opportunities. We have therefore introduced a parenting programme to parents and other caregivers who receive the government caregiver scheme with impressive results. Not only has maltreatment of children reduced but children's social and emotional skills have improved as well. Thanks to Fortum we are now able to take this programme to mothers with small children and we are certain that improved parenting practices will lead to improvements in early childhood development. Parents gain skills in how to enhance bonding with their children and to communicate in ways that support children’s cognitive, social and emotional development.
As accurate and regular growth monitoring is an important factor to address the high prevalence of malnutrition, we have used some of the Fortum grant to provide early childhood development centres with infantometers (to measure the length of a child) and weighing machines along with training of the government frontline workers on their use.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children lost their parents leaving them in a state of fear and uncertainty. The Fortum donation has enabled us to engage a clinical psychologist with substantial experience in grassroot psychosocial counselling. She has trained local staff members to act as first aid counsellors and they are now working with selected children. This is an important piece of work that we hope we can take further and that can help us to advocate with the government on the urgent need for initiatives that target improving the mental health of disadvantaged children.
Children who live in poor regions and in marginalised communities are at risk of being deprived of many of their basic rights and needs, but with the support of companies like Fortum, we are in a good position to transform the lives of children and improve their development prospects. Our support is increasingly being recognised by the state government, and we are actively promoting the government to scale up some of the initiatives.
About the writer
Disa Sjöblom works as a Senior Social Protection Adviser at Save the Children. She is based in India, where she supports Save the Children's Child Sensitive Social Protection project. Disa's job involves strategic planning, training, research, documentation, policy analyses and, most importantly, supporting the local project staff to do their work in the best possible way.
Fortum in India
India is the first country Fortum decided to enter in solar. The country offers one of the best solar resources and a sound government support for the development of the solar sector. India has set itself stretching targets for solar capacity for a clean energy future and Fortum is helping to support this. Within Rajasthan, Fortum has built 325 MW of solar since 2013 and continues to operate 75MW of this in Amrit and Bhadla in Rajasthan as well as in other parts of India. As well as funding the work with Save the Children, Fortum India carries out many other CSR projects near to where it operates to promote social and economic equity.