Venkatlakshmamma with her piggy bank.
It catches our eye as soon as we enter the anganwadi center (government-run day care) in Rampura – four piggy banks occupy pride of place on a small shelf on the wall. We’ve come to meet Venkatalakshmammma, the anganwadi teacher and her assistant Sowbhaghya, who’s just finishing lunch. It’s a hot February afternoon and the little village in Malur taluk in Kolar district looks deserted.
As we settle down, Venkatalakshmammma says, ‘so you’ve come looking for a Gelathi…’ as if she’s continuing a conversation we just left off minutes ago. It’s been more than 15 days since Gangadhar, the Buzz India Engagement Officer, last visited to socialize the Buzz Gelathi position among the community of trained Buzz women. ‘Yes,’ we say ‘but before we talk about that, can you tell us what you’ve heard from the women about the training?’
‘What I’ve heard is one thing, but this is what I’ve seen: even the children are starting to take to the Self-Shakti program.’ We’re taken aback! What does she mean? ‘After the program, I’ve been talking to parents who come here to drop their children, telling the mothers to implement what we learnt in the Self-Shakti training sessions. Earlier, they paid no attention to what I was saying but I kept repeating it every day when they come to drop their kids and when I go to their houses to drop the kids back from the day care – and slowly, things started to change…’ We want to know how they changed and why.
Venkatalakshmammma continues ‘Earlier when the children came to the anganwadi, the first thing they would do is run to the shop and buy something to eat – whether they wanted it or not – a toffee, a lollipop, anything; just spend a rupee or two because their parents had given it to them. Then one day, I said ‘those who put a coin in this piggy bank will get a chocolate from me for saving that money.’ Immediately, I got contributions for the piggy bank. This went on for a few days and some days, we wouldn’t have enough chocolates to go around, but the kids still wanted to put the money in anyway. Then, I stopped giving out chocolates altogether but even now, the first thing they do when they enter the room is head for the piggy bank and put in a coin.’
Why do they do it? we want to know. The kids are too young (under 6 years) to understand the concept of saving, so why are they so eager to put money in the piggy bank. ‘No, no, they’re not too young – they do understand – in their own way,’ asserts Venkatalakshmammma. ‘I tell them, let’s keep putting in coins and we’re not going to open it till it gets full, then we’ll open it up and see how much money we have’ – they understand that much; to them, it’s now about reaching that goal of filling the piggy bank. All the coins are either 1 or 2 rupee coins in there…’ she says pointing at the piggy banks. ‘When we do open it, we’ll spend it on the children. The parents know this. Now, they want to ensure their child is not the odd one out who’s not contributing. So they make sure the child has something to put in every day. See? The Self-Shakti program has been adopted by the kids too in Rampura!’