14 percent of India’s population is undernourished, according to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020’ report.

CARE India’s Kanya Sampurna Project is making efforts to improve the nutritional status of women and children in Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, India. The program works in partnership with the ICDS department to educate mothers on the importance of consuming nutritional foods, regular health checkups, breastfeeding and complementary feeding methods to lower malnutrition levels in the project locations. The project not only reaches out to pregnant and lactating mothers but ensures that their spouses and family members also have the right knowledge on nutrition and values the importance of eating nutritious food to help mothers to prevent anemia.

Currently the project reaches out to the community through mothers, Anganwadi workers and village level coordinators, however, COVID – 19 lockdown necessitated the need for creating capacities in local communities to serve the information needs of pregnant and lactating mothers without much disruption. Hence, the project now engages with leaders of the Self-Help-Group (SHG) federation and helps them to become “MAA Messengers” at communities. These trained MAA messengers are sharing critical messages to young women on the nutrition requirements of mothers and children, besides connecting them with Village Health Nurse (VHN) and Anganwadi workers for availing their services.

CARE trains SHG members to become  “MAA messengers” by taking support from both ICDS and Health Department, the MAA messengers are primarily leaders of local SHG, trained on basic knowledge on nutritional requirements of mothers and young children and supporting ICDS and Public Health department in registering mothers for availing maternal care provided by the government besides motivating the mothers to attend regular health check-ups, weighing children at regular intervals and regularly attending VHN day and mothers meeting at the Anganwadi Centre.

The MAA messengers are trained by the project team not only through lectures but through a mix of strategies which included role-play, activity-based sessions organised to help them to become familiar with basic communication concepts on behavioral change. Generally, SHG members of the project were actively engaged in the promotion of livelihood options for women but now they have begun supporting the AWWs in organising VHN days in the villages,  mobilising mothers and supporting the project team in conducting  Maternal, Infant and Young Children Nutrition training session in the Anganwadi Centers.

“MAA messenger program helped me realise the role of family members in reducing anemia, how prevention of anemia helps pregnant women give birth to a healthy child, a better understanding of foods which can increase protein level of a high-risk mother such as red rice. I am happy to share critical nutritional information with young women in our village and I am proud of playing a significant role in the reduction of malnutrition in our villages”, says Kalaiarasi from T. Arunmozhildevan panchayat, Cuddalore district.

The Kanya Sampoorna Project is a multi-thematic intervention through Heath, Education and Livelihoods, focused on the girl child, and aims at systemic and lasting change. CARE India implements this project by addressing nutritional issues and works with different age groups especially adolescents, pregnant and lactating women.

K.G Shanmugasundaram