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7 March 2022
Welcome to Vol.12 of 'Behaviour Change Matters’. In this edition, we share innovative interventions around responsive parenting and building mental health awareness among young people. Dhuwarakha Sriram of YuWaah offers advice on engaging young people in pandemic response. 'Meet our Team' features Alka from our Delhi office who is celebrating a milestone: 20 years of work with UNICEF. Sid Shrestha Chief - Social and Behaviour Change, UNICEF India
Over 1400 Anganwadi workers have been trained to motivate parents to register for Dulaar  ©UNICEF/India/SumitaThapar

Dulaar: A friend, just a phone call away Parenting is a responsibility that comes with its own challenges and apprehensions, no matter which part of the world you are living in. In Banda and Chitrakoot districts of Uttar Pradesh in India, parents have found a new friend who helps them find answers to their queries while bringing up their little ones. Over 30,000 users have signed up to receive advice on parenting through this innovative phone service that guides them on early childhood education and how they can help their child learn well through ‘Talk, Care and Play’. ‘Aapki Dost’, your friend is here to help Aapki Dost (your friend) is a friendly, zesty, youthful female voice that has an advice on every activity or opportunity you have to engage with your child. It tells you how to talk to the child and, encourage them to discover colours, textures, shapes and use whatever resources are at hand to play with and create learning. This could be a colourful dupatta (scarf) or your kitchen utensils. The advice comes four times a week on a one-minute long phone call. For children of upto the age of three years, activities are focused on ‘play and learn’, while for the older children of 3-6 years, complex issues like ‘good touch bad touch’, and dealing with sibling rivalry have also been touched upon. The messaging continues for 22-35 weeks depending on the pace of the user.

The Dulaar IVRS initiative created by UNICEF in partnership with Dost Learning Foundation was launched in June 2021. It is implemented through the state Anganwadi (early childhood care center) system and the curriculum is based on decades of research on early childhood education. The messages are aimed at supporting caregivers through information provided in an inspiring and fun manner. Dulaar does not require internet The good news is that Dulaar is low-tech and does not require smartphones or internet connectivity. The simple audio message works for users with basic literacy. A feedback study done by Dost Learning Foundation in December 2021 found that 65% caregivers report that it has helped them become more confident in managing the child. Alka Malhotra, SBC Specialist, UNICEF, states the idea behind Dulaar was engaging with parents on useful information in the form of simple tips that parents can follow and practice. “The content for the one-minute calls was developed through consultations with experts and validated with parents before it was made public,” she said.
Sindhuja Jeyabal, Director, Dost Learning Foundation, said that the simplicity of the phone calls made it possible for the caregivers to easily adopt the recommended talk, care, and play practices within the home environment. “The Anganwadi workers specifically appreciated the content around emotional security and wellbeing as many of them were exposed to it for the first time," she said.
How Dulaar became a part of daily life  As of February 2022, over 1400 Anganwadi workers have been trained to talk to to parents about this initiative and help them register. Users must opt to receive messages for their child age birth- 3 years or 3-6 years, and choose a convenient time to receive the phone call. At present they can select between 8 am, 12 noon and 4 pm. Anganwadi workers say post pandemic out-migration has largely ceased. Women do housework and work in their own fields. Most households have one phone, so the 8 am slot is preferred to receive the phone call before the men leave for work, or 4 pm when they return. In some homes where the women/ primary caregiver have access to a phone through the day, the 12 noon slot is preferred. As Anganwadis remained closed for nearly two years, while Routine Immunization services, COVID-19 vaccination services, home visit for ration distribution continued, the early childhood care programme came to a standstill. Hence, Dulaar is very welcome, say Anganwadi workers. “People are finding it useful and interesting. It is the same thing we have been teaching, but when it comes via the phone mothers seem to think it is more reliable,” says Radha Patel, Anganwadi worker. “At the Anganwadi we are not able to talk to the guardians, this way everyone in the household learns about how to ensure learning in the most formative years of the child,” she adds. Families with a new outlook 18-year-old Aastha who looks after her 3-year-old brother says that children always want the phone. “Messages told us the importance of minimizing screen time, especially to keep the phone away during meal times. The advice on managing tantrums by distracting he child was also very helpful,” she says. According to a DOST study, 81% users said the advice helped them in reducing their child’s screen time. Madhu has a 3.5-year-old son. She finds the tips of giving nutritious food to the child very useful. While 25-year-old Arti who has a 1.5 year old daughter found information on building a routine for her child helpful. “During the pandemic we could not go out. It was through these calls that I learnt so much about bringing up my daughter. They told us the importance of fixed meal times and sleep times, and this has really helped.” She never misses a call she says and encourages her husband also to listen. “In fact, I record the messages, and when I am free I don’t watch TV, I re-listen to the messages,” she says.
Users say the message is explained well and they can listen to it again. The songs and rhymes work well. They enjoy participating in quizzes. Sometimes there are phone-related challenges like the sim being disconnected or incoming calls affected because of zero balance which affects continuity, but it is resumed again. Suman, 18, said she has adopted tips like telling her nephew about colours while making the Rangoli (colour art on the floor) and giving the child atta dough to play with while she cooks. She herself has passed Class 10th and goes to the sewing school and gives tuition to smaller children. Anganwadi workers encourage parents to listen to the messages well and adopt them during their home visits. Anganwadi supervisor Santosh Kumari said Dulaar is a very good programme, people are learning while sitting at home. “Some parents say I don’t have time, they don’t pay attention. But those who are educated pay a lot of attention about their children’s future.”
Not just for mothers
Dinesh, 35, has a three-year-old daughter. 
He and his wife listen to the message at 4 pm when he is back from his field. Educated till Class 8th, Dinesh learnt things that no one had ever mentioned to him before. “One of the messages said elders should not quarrel in front of children, and create a peaceful atmosphere at home,” he says. Other parents say they have learnt how to tackle tantrums by diverting attention of the children and not shouting or hitting them. Children are learning, and their parents say they are learning too, how to be responsive parents.

Manoj Kumar, District Programme Officer, Chitrakoot, who leads the ICDS in the district says that the Dulaar programme has proven to be excellent, and what people receive from it depends on how jagruk (aware) and jaankaar (informed) they themselves are. “I tell people you will get advice and tips free of charge, all you have to do is listen and you will get the information.” He adds that with Anganwadis now opening it will be easier to encourage more users to be engaged.

An adolescent in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, participates in a mental health awareness workshop involving games and activities, August 2021. Photo used for representational purpose ©UNICEF/UN0517420/Panjwani

''Aao Baat Karein’ (Come, let’s talk) is a community-based awareness programme for children and young people on mental health and wellbeing and prevention of substance abuse. The programme is being implemented by UNICEF’s CSO partner Chhattisgarh Agricon Samiti (CAS) in four districts of Chhattisgarh: Bijapur, Bilaspur, Kondagaon and Jagdalpur. More than 2,000 volunteers are actively engaged in the initiative as of December 2021.  Chhattisgarh is a landlocked and heavily forested state. Over 30% of its 30 million population belong to Scheduled Tribes. The project covers 3 blocks of Bijapur, 3 blocks of Bilaspur, 4 blocks of Kondagaon and 7 blocks of Jagdalpur. 50 Gram Panchayats from each block were identified for carrying out awareness on mental health. Local community volunteers were identified and mental health workshops, awareness meetings and discussions were held. The first phase of the project implementation began in 20 gram panchayats from each block. Trainings were conducted with Mitanins (community health volunteers), Anganwadi workers, youth groups, school students and teachers on basic modules of mental health.
Creating an understanding of mental health in the community was a challenge. Danish Khatoon Hussain of CAS said, “People used to think of mental health as a mental illness, but they now understand the difference.” Workshops on community mental health held in December 2021 focused on different age groups, with a focus on pregnant women.  Games and activities like dancing to popular film songs and bursting balloons were held.
A two-day training module was prepared and disseminated in the workshops. The sessions cover various aspects of mental health such as psychosocial disability; biomedical and psychosocial model on mental health; pregnancy and mental health; mental health of children and adolescents. The programme has used the power and reach of social media. A mental health helpline through WhatsApp chatbot was launched. Manisha Motwani of CAS said, “Often, people are uneasy sharing mental health problems but through this medium, they will be able to seek help.”
Youth volunteer Gokul Mandavi has completed secondary school and comes from a family engaged in farming. He believes the training has been a turning point in his life and is inspired to work on mental health issues in the community. “Through this initiative youth can come together to address issues like domestic violence, unemployment, stress and suicide,” he said. Manas Bannerjee of CAS added, “We provided youth with the opportunity and resources and they are now leading social change in their communities.”

Asma Khan, 23, actively engaged in pandemic response during the peak of the COVID-19 second wave, Bhopal, May 2021. A master’s student, she is a member of NGO Aawaj and YuWaah’s Young People’s Action Team (YPAT). Photo courtesy: Aawaj

Dhuwarakha Sriram is the Chief of Generation Unlimited (YuWaah), Youth Development and Partnerships with UNICEF India. She leads one of the largest initiatives for young people on learning, skilling, employment, youth innovations and civic engagement with support from public, private, and civil society partners. Here, she discusses the role young people can play in pandemic response:

What were some of YuWaah's initiatives to engage young people in COVID-19 vaccination and promoting Covid Appropriate Behaviour in their communities in 2021?

YuWaah launched the #YoungWarrior movement in May 2021 during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 in India, resolving to activate young people across the country for COVID-19 response. We joined hands with 1350+ partners, ranging from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, CBSE, AICTE, private sector partners, UN bodies, NGO/CSO partners, and young people. A mix of media and spaces were used for COVID-19 awareness, mental health and psychosocial support sessions. Young Warriors led campaigns for vaccination, helped organise testing camps, distributed health kits and rations to marginalised families, actively advocated on social media, and helped bust myths and misperceptions by organising Nukkad Naataks (street plays). By August 2021, Young Warriors across India had taken 6 million+ actions for COVID-19.

What have been some of the successful strategies to engage young people in pandemic response?

I would say that two principles – leaving no young person behind, and keeping our strategies open to constant evolution – helped us come together to lead #YoungWarrior. We struck strategic multi-sectoral partnerships with the government, especially the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Diversity and inclusion is one of YuWaah's core values. Therefore, we diversified into different channels – U-Report for young people with internet access, IVRS for young people with feature phones, and community radios for young people without access to devices. We developed our engagement tools in 12 languages, and included sign language interpreters in our live sessions, among other steps to ensure inclusion.

#YoungWarrior also actively incentivised young people engaging for COVID-19 response with certificates and recognition in social and print media at national and international platforms.

Most importantly, we made sure to hear young people, and so they heard us too.

As vaccination for 15-18 year olds rolls out, how can young people play a role in mobilising the teenagers, dispelling fears and myths?

Starting from building their own awareness, young people can help bust myths and misperceptions as well as advocate for vaccination among their peer groups and communities. The commendable actions of youth from NSS, NYKS and NCC during the second wave of COVID-19 provide a strong precedent for their leadership among young people.

While dealing with a pandemic that has disrupted our lives and livelihoods, young people can take a range of actions like:

Raise their Voice in favour of COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) and vaccination via social media or community engagement. Neha Kaur, a YoddhaYuWaah Ninja from Punjab actively busted myths, convinced community members in favour of vaccination, and tapped into Gurudwaras to support COVID Appropriate Behaviors.

Take Action – get vaccinated, lead campaigns to support vaccination, help vulnerable groups. Asma Khan, 23, from Bhopal supplied daily wagers, beggars and other vulnerable groups with rations and meals during the lockdown, also invoking many others to donate.

Partner with local governance structures and community members, build networks with peers and peer groups to actively mobilize teenagers. Sapna Gurjar, a YPAT member from Rajasthan built networks with communities to share accurate information with 250-300 community members via the Young Warrior IVRS, thus helping them break the technology barrier. Yashvardhan Rane led the ‘Find a Bed’ initiative in alliance with the district administration.

Advocating through verified information, young people can actively build a case against myths. For example, Dipen Gadhiya, a member of YuWaah’s YPAT, created a website curating resources/information from verified sources, apart from providing real-time verified information via WhatsApp groups.

Become Role Models – Young people can develop empathy for their peers and community members, and connect people to helplines/resources for mental health and psychosocial support. Ashish Sahu from Odisha was strongly impacted by the scenes of death and fear he saw while accompanying health workers during their visits. He decided to support information dissemination in Adivasi-inhabited areas, and began accompanying ASHA and Anganwadi workers on their visits there. He empathised with the anxiety of people in the 100+ households he met, and counseled them on CAB.

Develop Innovative Solutions based on their areas of interest ranging from interactive artwork for awareness, to tech-based solutions. Ashutosh Verma, a zoology student from Jammu developed a novel solution to combat the ‘infodemic’. He formed a team of his peers to counter misinformation by simplifying their learnings from scientific literature to develop easily accessible information booklets.

Thus, young people can play a multitude of roles in the context of crisis relief and response. On the other hand, it is our responsibility, as experts and seasoned practitioners, to listen to young people’s perspectives and priorities, include them in the design, implementation and evaluation of emergency planning to shape our response.


Then... And now! Last month Alka celebrated a special milestone – 20 years of working with UNICEF India. She joined as a Communications Officer with the WASH section in January 2002 and moved to the Programme Communication section when it was set up in 2003. In 2008, the section was renamed “Communication for Development”, and in 2022 it has been renamed “Social and Behaviour Change”. “The name change reflects the work we do, from providing communication support to programmes, to doing communication for development (programmes), we now see ourselves catalyzing social and behaviour change,” says Alka. “We work with people understanding their barriers, mindsets, and the context in which they live. We work with systems and social norms towards behaviour change. So it is much more comprehensive,” she elaborates.

Alka describes herself as someone self-driven and self-motivated, constantly exploring new areas of work. She has led UNICEF’s entertainment education and media-based initiatives such as ‘Kyunki Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai’, a television drama on health issues broadcast on Doordarshan and the vastly popular Meena radio series. She has helped formulate policy on community radio, when it opened up for NGOs in 2006. From carving out the programme on menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls to creating an SBC package on responsive parenting, she is keen on innovation for behaviour change. Alka led an IVRS based responsive parenting module called Dulaar. “Much of early childhood education depends on the home environment. We asked ourselves how we can engage with parents to add value for children’s learning. A formative research among parents found that violence was a major issue in households. Violence that is so subtle, from shouting and threatening to actually beating the child to discipline the child. The Dulaar module offers advice on parenting, we have included doable action, ways to distract children to manage a tantrum.” This has been greatly appreciated by parents.

Alka credits her professional accomplishments to her husband who is “a pillar of support and a partner in the true sense.” He is a Chartered Accountant by training, an exporter by profession, and there is mutual appreciation for each other’s work. She has two sons and a daughter-in-law. For leisure, Alka enjoys long walks, traveling to new destinations with her husband, and most recently, growing tulips in her garden.


Behavioural perspectives on water management and use in India: An evidence review. This literature review done by UNICEF India draws out recent evidence on community engagement and behaviour change communication interventions that have taken place around drinking water and domestic water management in India. Published in The Communication Initiative Network; February 2022. Full report and summary are available on the UNICEF IEC eWarehouse.

Training module on mental health awareness. This 2-day module 'Aao Baat Karein' has been produced in partnership with Chhattisgarh Agricon Samiti; December 2021
More than half of parents and pregnant women exposed to aggressive formula milk marketing – WHO, UNICEF More than half of parents and pregnant women surveyed for a new WHO/UNICEF report say they have been targeted with marketing from formula milk companies, much of which is in breach of international standards on infant feeding practices; WHO, February 2022 
Can social media output help shift perceptions about informal waste pickers in Bengaluru, India? A new study by BBC Media Action shows what increased awareness of waste pickers and their work has helped build recognition and appreciation of their contribution to society. BBC Media Action, February 2022
Helping students in India make up for lost time: Alternative education programmes help children catch up after COVID-19 school closures; Divya Khanna, UNICEF India, February 2021 
Volunteers step in to make online spaces safeRishabh Bezbaruah, UNICEF India, February 2022

The documents disseminated by Behaviour Change Matters
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