Welcome to Vol.8 of 'Behaviour Change Matters’. In this edition, we share how a storybook is helping children understand COVID-19, how community nurseries are improving nutrition & livelihood among tribal women. Meet Jayesh Joshi from CRA who shares the power of community radio in reaching remote populations.

Sid Shrestha
Chief - C4D, UNICEF India

Kiting High: Cover of the book in English and page from the book in Assamese

As schools reopen in India, an inspiring new story book ‘Kiting High – New Normal for Children’ developed by UNICEF office in Assam in collaboration with Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust (ARMT) is helping children understand COVID-19 and cope with it. Partnership with the state education programme Samagra Siksha has ensured wide dissemination to schools and teachers across the state.

Gitali Kakati, SBCC Consultant, UNICEF Assam, and Dr Ankuran Dutta, Managing Trustee ARMT, share how the book was created.

When did the idea for the book emerge? Gitali Kakati: The idea first came around mid 2020, at the peak of COVID-19, when we were discussing development of risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) materials to raise awareness among children and the community. We wanted to create a book that is intriguing and stimulating for children that delivers key messages on COVID-19 and Covid Appropriate Behaviour in the form of a story. We decided to partner with ARMT as they have a young and diverse team of journalists, academicians and illustrators. Our brief to them was the information must be simple so that it is easy to understand.

How was the story developed? Dr Ankuran Dutta: We adopted the model of ‘community learning programme’ developed by the Commonwealth of Learning. This model is based on formative research. A message matrix is developed with four parameters: bad behaviours – its consequences; good behaviours – its benefits. Interviews and focused groups discussion were done with 40 children in several rural, urban and remote locations. During our research, we tried to gauge children’s understanding of Covid Appropriate Behaviours. Interestingly, children knew more about COVID-19 than young people. They had a vague idea of bacteria and virus, some terms were difficult for them to understand, but they were maintaining excellent hygiene. Based on this, we developed the story and its two protagonists. It was important to include both rural and urban contexts. Parents, grandparents, health workers and teachers, are included in the story, apart from children of course.
Since students were exposed to the online medium throughout the pandemic, online safety has been touched upon. Addressing COVID-19 related stigma has also been discussed. We tried to keep the language simple without any technical jargon. The book was developed in Assamese and translated into English. Given that illustrations are vital to children’s books, great care was taken to ensure that visuals communicate right messaging and include different contexts.

How has the book been disseminated? Gitali Kakati: Collaboration with state education programme Samagra Siksha has ensured that the book has been widely disseminated across the state. It has been distributed to their district officials through WhatsApp for further dissemination to over 4,000 secondary schools in the state. A one-day virtual orientation was conducted for the district officials of Samagra Siksha on using the book. It has also been disseminated in over 100 tea gardens in Assam through our partner organisations. Over 300 teachers of the tea garden schools, 270 community members and 5,500 adolescents of tea gardens have been reached through this initiative. Feedback from teachers and children has been positive. In fact, we have received a request from tea gardens for a translation in Sadri, the local language.
Download the book here in
English and Assamese.

According to a recent UNICEF rapid assessment of learning during school closures conducted in six states including Assam, on a typical day, 97 per cent of students spend three to four hours studying and learning. WhatsApp is reported to be the most commonly used mode for remote learning, followed by textbooks. Beyond learning shortfalls, school closures have affected students' mental health. Interviews suggest that social isolation, disruption to learning, and family's financial insecurity are key reasons for poor mental well-being. In this regard, initiatives such as this fill in a much needed gap.

A tribal woman in her backyard garden in Angul district, Odisha. Photo credit: Vinay Panjwani

Tribal women of Odisha in eastern India have often been forced to work outside their village. Food insecurity and poor nutrition are key challenges facing the tribal communities. Over the last decade, there has been progressive improvement in reducing under-nutrition, although it still remains acute. According to 2015-2016 national health data, 34% children under 5-years-old in the state are stunted, 34% are underweight, and 44% are anaemic.   Despite the prominence of agriculture in Odisha’s economy and livelihood, food insecurity has remained a risk, especially in terms of poor access to adequate and diverse foods. Increasing effects of climate change are beginning to adversely impact agricultural outputs and crop patterns. For example, the rainfall deficiency in the monsoons cause increasingly severe drought and crop loss in almost all the districts. As a result, farmers are growing less water-intensive crops as a traditional coping mechanism to tide over drought-like conditions.

Drought in the forest affects the availability and consumption of forest foods as well as the income of people collecting Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) for livelihoods, which further deteriorates the quantity and diversity of food on the platter. Disadvantaged tribal groups are most exposed to food insecurity as they primarily survive on forest foods and make a living out of NTFPs. According to a study, there is a higher burden of severe wasting among tribal children at 5.8% as compared to the state average of 4.9%.   In 2019, UNICEF and partners launched Swabhimaan programme in Angul and Koraput districts in which community kitchen gardens were promoted to facilitate families’ access to nutritious vegetables and fruit. As the community welcomed the ‘nutri-gardens’, tribal women’s groups in late 2020 suggested the launch of community nurseries to support sustainable livelihood and support families’ nutrition. Thirty-five community nurseries were set up in collaboration with the local agricultural authorities targeting 20,000 households. Saplings were sold to neighboring rural areas at a nominal price.
The community nurseries not only promote livelihood but have brought social change home. ‘Friendship meetings’ were held for women to discuss issues of concern like identifying women with poor nutrition, counseling them and linking them with various social entitlements. Severe cases were referred to health facilities. Food demonstrations and promotional rallies have been held to showcase the nurseries’ offerings and benefits. Household food security has improved as a result of this intervention. In 2015, 35% households had kitchen gardens; by 2021, 72% households had kitchen gardens. Household consumption of pulses, dairy, animal protein and vegetables has also improved significantly.   Gitanjali Behera, who helps run one of the community nurseries, says the nursery has helped empower women in the village. “My in-laws have now started relying on me. They involve me in decision making matters of the family. This is only after seeing me handling the big task of maintaining the nursery throughout the year.”

Community mobiliser Leelaben visits households in an urban slum in Bikaner, Rajasthan, to encourage mothers to immunize their children under 5. Picture courtesy SEWA.

Shamshadben from Rajasthan’s Bikaner town makes bangles and works in farms to support her family. Her two children, 5-years, and 18-months-old, have not been vaccinated for the last two years. As COVID-19 had an impact on livelihoods in India, a day of work is so valuable for Shamshadben, she thinks that if the children get vaccinated, they might develop side effects that will make her sit at home to look after them and lose income. Shamshadben’s children are amongst millions in India that missed on childhood vaccines due to COVID-19 pandemic and the overall global vaccine misinformation. According to immunization data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in July 2021, India registered the largest drop in routine childhood immunization coverage in 2020. The country is also experiencing a drop with DTP-3 (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) coverage falling from 91% to 85%.

UNICEF’s partner SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) is focused on families like Shamshadben. Through social mobilisers, a meeting with other working women who vaccinated their children has encouraged Shamshadben to do the same after she learned how to manage the vaccine side-effects without stopping work. Between September 2020 and October 2021, SEWA’s efforts helped vaccinate nearly 120,000 children, including those on the government list of ‘Left-out, Drop-out, Resistant children’.

A Needs Assessment Study conducted by UNICEF in seven tribal dominant states of India released in June 2021 highlights inequities in immunization, such as lower growth of Full Immunization Coverage in urban as compared to rural areas; lowest vaccine uptake among Scheduled Tribes and among children with uneducated mothers. SEWA and other community organizations are dedicated to reach every child through community engagement and addressing vaccine hesitancy issues.

Elsewhere, in Pandhro village in Gujarat state, community mobilisers are dispelling myths around immunization, and helping people overcome hurdles for immunizing their children. The main occupation here is working in lignite mines and farming. Mothers say while they want to vaccinate their child, elder family members prevent them from doing so. Beliefs such as ‘vaccines cause infertility’ and ‘diseases like measles are nature’s way of punishing people for their evil deeds’, are still common. Surajba is a farming worker and has a 2-month-old son. She told the community mobilisers ‘the family will hold me responsible if my son gets fever post vaccination’. SEWA’s workers made sure to speak to her in-laws and husband about the importance of childhood vaccination and how side-effects can be managed. Finally, the baby was vaccinated at the local Primary Health Care Center. Surajba says “the explanation why vaccines are important left an impact on me. I will make sure my neighbors get their children vaccinated on time.”



'By the people, for the people', is a slogan that over 200 community radio stations in India often use. These radio stations are instrumental in bringing social change to their communities by giving them a platform to voice their opinions as well as by disseminating information during disasters. Their role during the COVID-19 pandemic has been unique. We discuss the issue with Jayesh Joshi, Head of India’s Community Radio Association.

How difficult was it for community radio stations to continue broadcasting during the pandemic?

It was extremely difficult. Many community radio stations are in located in remote areas. It was a challenge for community radio volunteers and anchors to come out during lockdowns but they took it upon themselves to go out in the field to broadcast. We felt that this was an important time and we could play an important role, hence it was important to continue programming. Many of the stations used remote solutions to continue broadcasting during lockdowns. Personal risk taking added to the stress. It was a financial struggle as funds got diverted to COVID-19 relief and community radio was not seen as priority.

What has community radio’s biggest contribution been during the pandemic?

There are about 200 community radio stations in India. They played a crucial role in reaching out to people with accurate information about COVID-19, COVID Appropriate Behaviour, and the COVID-19 vaccine. In the earlier months, when people were isolated and under mental distress, they really valued the information and updates received via community radio. Many stations put out appeals for food relief during the pandemic. They also did education programming as schools and colleges were closed. For example, community radio station in Wardha, Maharashtra, produced over 19,000 educational programmes during this time.

In what way has the partnership with UNICEF helped?

UNICEF helped convey to the Government about our role in the pandemic, as a result of which the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare now has greater confidence in us and sees the value of our work.


India improves infant mortality rate but gains slowing down: India's infant mortality rate has dropped to 30, but the decline has slowed down in the last five years in most states, just released data from the Sample Registration System (SRS) shows. Rema Nagarajan, Times of India, October 2021

Wearing face coverings protected wearers from COVID-19 infection: According to a new research, people who wore face masks outside of home, and were exposed to infection due to their circumstances, had significantly lower rates of COVID-19 infection. University of Oxford, October 2021

Assessing impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the socio-economic situation of vulnerable populations: This Report is based on findings using Community Based Monitoring (CBM) in seven states over four rounds during the period June-July till December 2020. UNICEF, October 2021

Formative Research on Perceptions Regarding COVID-19 Vaccine: This qualitative study commissioned by UNICEF was done by Centre for Media Studies in January 2021. It provides evidence for RCCE strategies to be developed by government and partners for COVID-19 vaccination in India. The Communication Initiative Network, October 2021

The documents disseminated by Behaviour Change Matters
do not necessarily reflect an official position by UNICEF.

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