Child Health & Sports Cooperative
India’s first Health Co-operative, for and by children.
Child Health Co-operative (CHC) is a unique initiative facilitated in the year 1995. One of the key objectives of the health cooperative is to promote safe and healthy living among children and communities.
The cooperative has regular workshops where the children deliberate on health, nutrition and environment issues and gain knowledge regarding prevention of diseases and the importance of nutrition and a clean environment. The cooperative is based on the principle that through collective action children can collectively advocate for effective health care, safe drinking water and sanitation services from the government.
By contributing a very small fee every month (decided by children themselves) children become CHC members and learn the importance of budgeting for health care too. The small monthly fee is transferred to their Children’s Development Khazana account. The objective of a membership fee was for children to learn to budget for health care too. Child Health Educators (CHE) of CHC are promoters and grassroots health educators among their peers and community. Every year, selected children undergo training which includes administering first aid, addressing minor health issues and hospital visits to understand the functioning of hospitals and to remove the fear of children about hospitals, doctors and nurses. The CHEs are looked upon as barefoot doctors in their communities as adults in the community have reached out to them when they require to access medical care in a government hospital. Furthermore, they attend to wounds, cuts and give first aid to whoever needs it in the community.
In 2019, the mandate of CHC was broadened, to include mental health and a sports component to the health cooperative. It is now known as Child Health and Sports Cooperative (CHSC). Today, the health cooperative works on holistic health for all its members and families. The CHSC has buddies who are the focal points a member (child) can reach out when he or she has a problem, is unhappy about something. The Buddy is trained in basic communication and skills of empathy and is able to reach out to a friend and support the person to get in touch with the adult counsellor- social case worker if the issue is serious and needs an intervention. The Buddies were very supportive to their friends/peer during the pandemic and lock down. The Sports Educator, who organizes play and sports for the members, sees to it that it is inclusive and ensures children with disabilities are involved in all play and games including team sports. Butterflies, uses sports as a tool for emotional wellbeing of the child. Play and sports, helps in improving both physical and emotional health.
The core goal of CHSC is to support street-connected and ethnically marginalised children lead healthy lives and make positive, informed choices. The mission of the Child Health & Sports Cooperative is to educate every child on the importance of safe and healthy living including being emotionally well which would help them to stay healthy and reduce their vulnerability to preventable illnesses, thereby saving them from medical expenses and further pauperization.
In New Delhi, India, Butterflies runs a curative component of CHSC which includes a well-equipped mobile health van with a doctor and nurse visiting all contact points on a weekly basis to provide medical treatment to children in need. Butterflies works closely with four government hospitals in Delhi. Today CHSC members and CHEs are familiar faces in these government hospitals and whenever a CHE takes a child to the emergency unit or the OPD, the doctors and nurses attend to them even if they are not accompanied by an adult. We have found the government medical doctors and nurses’ sensitive, and very supportive in their treatment of poor children and adults.
As of March 2019, CHSC is operational in eight countries across the world and in ten states of India with a total membership of 15,669 children (8,305 boys and 7,364 girls) .
Why a ‘health cooperative’ ?
The primary reason to initiate a cooperative was because, children were not learning the importance of nutrition, physical hygiene, cleanliness of their surroundings, prevention of common illnesses such as diarrhea, malaria, dengue, dental problems, scabies, cuts, bruises and other preventable illnesses. Furthermore, there was no change in their behaviour that would support them to stay healthy. Cooperatives was a way forward for us, if we wanted a positive change in the behaviour, attitudes of the children and their families towards leading safe and healthy lives. The staff of Butterflies first went through a thorough training in cooperatives, to draw the contours of the health cooperative before taking it to the children for discussions. The health cooperative would have the children as the primary members, it would be democratic, children would have leadership roles, they would collectively decide on the rules, activities with the support of the adult facilitator. The children at the Bal Sabha, had discussions on the new approach of the health programme. They were enthusiastic, and agreed to the proposal. Children went through series of training workshops on cooperatives, they collectively agreed on the activities as well as to the proposal that members would be elected to leadership roles.