helping malnourished girls

Protecting young girls from malnutrition: The journey of two 17-year-olds

In an exclusive conversation with Soulveda, the young co-founders Ananya Talluri and Anvitha Jampana, talked about their journey, the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned along the way.
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Adolescence is a crucial stage in human life. This is the time when our physical and cognitive abilities develop and our horizons expand. It’s quite important to eat right at this stage to meet the nutrient requirements of the body. The food preferences and eating habits we pick up during adolescence is what we carry into adulthood as well. Unfortunately, several Indian children living in poverty have severe health issues due to malnutrition and bad eating habits. In India, 40 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys are anaemic, according to a UNICEF report.

Although the central and state government have launched various programmes including Weekly Iron and Fold Acid Supplementation (WIFS) and Midday Meal (MDM) schemes to tackle the issue, iron deficiency in children is still a huge cause of concern in many parts of the country. The problem lies in the implementation of these programmes.

Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency (SSAAT) visited 60 schools in 10 districts in the state of Telangana and found schools in detrimental conditions. “The cooking and serving and we found unhygienic conditions everywhere. Most schools do not even have a supply of proper safe drinking water and some do not provide soaps to children for washing hands. Proper cleanliness is not maintained on the school premises and kitchen areas,” the report published in The Times of India said.

In 2019, two girls (now 17)—Ananya Talluri and Anvitha Jampana—visited various government schools in their city and realised how grave the situation is. Their personal experience of living with Anaemia helped them understand the root cause of the issue, unawareness. “We realised that we were lucky that we had medical access and knowledge of right food so we were able to resolve our problems pretty quickly,” recalls Ananya.

To do their bit, they started a project called Svaasthya. Through their initiative, they bring awareness through education and fulfil the nutritional needs of female children in their city. So, far they have impacted the lives of “around 120 girls and are in touch with another 200,” says Ananya.

In an exclusive conversation with Soulveda, the young co-founders, Ananya Talluri and Anvitha Jampana talked about their journey, the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned along the way.

Your project fulfil the nutritional needs of underprivileged adolescent girls. What inspired you to start this initiative?

Anvitha Jampana: As children, we have visited various government schools and we both noticed that although the quantity wasn’t the problem in regards to the foods that were served to them, it was the quality of the food.

Ananya Talluri: The proportions were also a problem. They were given a lot of watery parts (for the food), which lacked protein. We also realised that a lot of people were unaware of these issues, especially underprivileged girls who don’t know about nutritional values. So, we are trying to bring awareness (to them).

Can you tell us more about your initiative? How does it work?

Ananya Talluri: We first get in touch with people who know about orphanages because they don’t take us seriously when we contact them directly. Then, we do a round of blood tests and health check-ups. We give the reports to a doctor. He tells us which medicines children need. Some kids may need more iron and some need less. So we make individual packets and write the instructions on them before delivering them. A few weeks ago, we started offline sessions. We go to the orphanages to deliver vitamin supplements and talk to the children. In the end, we take another round of blood tests and do health check-ups to see if there is any improvement. We also conduct a feedback session to see if we need to make any changes.

Schools were closed during the pandemic. How did you continue despite the situation?

Anvitha Jampana: We started planning for this project towards the end of 2019, right before the pandemic. We wanted to work with government schools initially. But due to the pandemic, all the government schools were closed. Then we started contacting orphanages. I think the major challenge for us was to gain their trust. Because all this was done over the phone. We had never met them and they had never met us. And who’s going to believe that two 16-year-old kids (in 2020) want to help them, right? Especially when we are bringing our money into this. I think that was a major challenge. And when we did finally land on a couple of orphanages, all the discussions that we initially had to do were online.

And we were looking to work with adolescent kids, in the age range of 12 to 18 years old. But the majority of the orphanage children were around 13 and 14, so their attention span wasn’t that great. On top of this, the sessions were rife with internet interruptions. All this was quite difficult.

Along with Svaasthya, you have to focus on your studies as well. How did you find the time to do both?

Anvitha Jampana: We worked on this a lot last summer, which was during the pandemic. We did have plenty of time for planning and developing a framework. Initially, it did take some time (to adjust) because we weren’t in 11th grade anymore. We became busy with our college applications. But we did plan ahead and made sure that we prioritise what to do. So, we moved around our individual schedules based on what we had to do with orphanages.

Can you tell us about the impact your initiative has had in the lives of young girls?

Anvitha Jampana: Recently, we worked with an orphanage in our district. We are very happy with the statistics concerning the kids we’ve worked with. Because not only does iron improve the menstrual health of the girls but also their energy levels and mental wellbeing. Initially, it was hard to bond with the girls but because we did go through something similar, it was easy to gain their trust. Towards the end, they were comfortable with us. They wouldn’t hesitate to ask us any questions. In terms of all this, the experience was really good.

What do you intend to achieve through your initiative?

Anvitha Jampana: In addition to improving the health and nutrition of these girls, our main goal is to spread awareness. People do know that underprivileged girls do not have the same luxuries that they have. But to them, it’s an afterthought. The main thing was to make everyone aware of the problems underprivileged female children have. Within the orphanage, we have felt that they are taken care of very well. But we’ve also realised that people who are taking care of children need to be educated better so they can give their best support. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just (the lack of) education. Small changes like changing something in someone’s meal for a month can make a huge difference in their physical and mental wellbeing.

What is the lesson you’ve learnt in your journey?

Ananya Talluri: One of the main things we have learned is how to adapt to different situations. Because we went from government schools to orphanages and there is a huge difference between the two. Approaching government schools was easy. But orphanages are more protective. We also had to switch from offline to online learning. Also, communicating with these orphanages is so difficult because they don’t trust easily.

What advice do you have for those who wish to make a difference?

Anvitha Jampana: I would say just start. People have so many ideas and are passionate about various things. But many hesitate when it comes to execution. I think that’s what, Ananya and I also felt. We had so many ideas but we didn’t proceed. We were kind of scared to start. I think if you have passion, a simple plan that can help even one person, you’ve done a great deal. Because you’ve changed that person’s life in a very positive way.

Ananya Talluri: Don’t worry about the quantity, think about the quality. Because some of our friends have done projects like this and they have impacted thousands of people. We are still in the hundreds. We have to spend more time. Secondly, don’t spend too much time planning because often things don’t go as planned. That’s the mistake we made. We spent so many months planning and the pandemic changed everything. So, just start and planning will happen as you go.

  • Ananya Talluri is the co-founder of Svaasthya, and also a Diana Award 2021 recipient. Through Svaasthya, she hopes to increase awareness and medical access for underprivileged children.
  • Anvitha Jampana is the co-founder of Svaasthya. Her passion to diminish malnutrition among underprivileged youth and her goal to provide equitable access to healthcare for all is what drove her to start this project.

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