A report, jointly released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), on prevalence of malnutrition among children in India found that 39.3 per cent children had stunted growth, 32.7 per cent were underweight and 21.4 per cent children experienced low birthweight in the country. The state-wise data was collected and corroborated by health scientists, malnutrition experts and policy makers from across the country. In a bid to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition among children, Hyderabad-based Shekhar Maravani sub-inspector in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), started an NGO, the White Volunteers Foundation on 24 March 2018.
The organisation initiated the Nityapaalamrutam programme to ensure that each school-going child in government schools and anganwadis drinks a minimum of 150 ml of milk everyday.
Since they started, the NGO has provided at least 4,536 litres of milk to 124 children in Telangana and Jammu (where they are working in collaboration with a local NGO).
The schools are chosen on the basis of the children who study there.
“We target school where the children are not from well-off very poor backgrounds. We speak to the teachers at these schools, the school management, children’s families before going ahead,” he explains.
Most of the children who study in these schools belong to the age group of 3 years to 12 years.
The NGO has about 2,000 volunteers spread across different regions like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and where the schools have been adopted. Volunteers also get in touch with Shekhar from states like New Delhi and Punjab.
“Everyday, the ayah at the school goes to the co-operative milk shop, picks up the milk and ensures that the kids drink this. My team goes there every week to check if the milk programme is running smoothly,” he says.
The NGO is raising funds for their programmes through support and donations from friends, locals and sponsors from Hyderabad. The milk programme is ongoing in about five government schools in Telangana and one school in Jammu, where Shekhar is posted.
The Man Behind The Mission
The CRPF man has donned many hats in his life until now. After finishing his B(Com) degree in 2008, he worked at HDFC bank initially as a recruitment consultant and then a sales development manager for 3 years. “While I was working, I was preparing for the government jobs and after cracking the exam, I was finally offered a job in 2012 as a sub-inspector,” he says.
He finished his training in Coimbatore, and was posted in Assam in June 2013. After Assam, he went on to work in Chhattisgarh. His experiences in both the states expanded his worldview on development issues that were prevalent in the country.
It was through his work that Shekhar realised the important role nutrition played in the growth and development of a child.
Shekhar was posted in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district near Sukma from 2015 till 2017. There, he was responsible for working closely with the Child Welfare department in the region, focusing on children’s health and education.
“My job was to ensure there was a reduction in school dropout rates. The situation was really bad there that in some schools, the number of students were in single digits,” he explains.
Shekhar would also accompany doctors who would visit these schools for health checkups. However, since the area was highly disturbed, there were times the doctors were reluctant in visiting these schools, fearing their safety.
These visits were for the purpose of immunisations, nutrition and medical treatments. What he saw in one of these health camps is a turning point that pushed him towards starting WVF. “I saw that when the children were given injections, they fainted. This really shook me. I realised that they had not eaten anything because of which they passed out,” he explains.
After he returned from his Chhattisgarh posting, he registered the NGO under Telangana Societies Act-2001.
Other notable work
Among the other programmes, the NGO has the Vastradaan programme where they provide clothes to the needy in about 24 slums across Hyderabad, especially during the winter months.
While he was posted in Assam, Shekhar also conducted several workshops with children in primary schools where he spoke about the importance of exercise. He, along with his team, have also conducted talks and workshops in schools where they have spoken to children about good touch and bad touch.
At home, he lives with his parents, wife and two children. His wife handles some of the WVF’s operations and its social media accounts.
He now hopes to expand his services in Assam. “It is important that we pay attention to the health of children as it is the only way they can reach their potential and serve the country in their own way in the future. I am hopeful that we can improve these children’s conditions by working together,” he says signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)