Salaam Bombay Foundation students collaborate with government officials for a healthier environment

NM Joshi school in Lower Parel was dotted with an array of different stalls. Each stall was manned by a youngster accompanied by his or her mother. A visit to the stall elicited an extremely enthusiastic response from the mother-child duo who explained some simple ways of cooking nutritious food at a very low cost, using ingredients commonly found on kitchen shelves. The informative stalls were a part of the impressive Bal Parishad event that was organised by NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation ahead of World Cancer Day that is observed on February 4.

Since 2007, Salaam Bombay has created in the BMC and government-aided schools in which they operate, advocacy and leadership forums for students to voice concerns and create action on issues related to tobacco control — the Bal Panchayat and the Bal Parishad. Through these activities, students develop a network of peer advocates and share strategies for change in their communities. Select school members of the Bal Panchayat go on to form the Bal Parishad which meets various stakeholders every year at an event that is organised on the lines of a Model United Nations. Stakeholders include senior government officials from various departments.

This year’s Bal Parishad had a unique edition. With the tag line Hum bacchoka ek hi nara, swasthapurna jeevan hamara, the focus was on”Collaboration for a healthier environment. The idea for focusing on general nutrition in this year’s Bal Parishad came up after Salaam Bombay Foundation’s research showed that as most students from municipal schools belong to resource poor backgrounds, there is a tendency towards malnutrition. Families are unaware of what constitutes proper nutrition and the correct way to cook food so that vitamins and minerals are preserved. Most are often found eating junk and unhealthy food resulting in high levels of malnutrition amongst them.  Health monitors trained in the Nutrition Awareness Programme participated along with their mothers in the Food Festival in which 12 healthy and nutritious food recipes were exhibited at the stalls.

Tobacco continues to be a focal point at the Bal Parishad. After the recommendations of last year’s Bal Parishad, the 11 tobacco-free school criteria was approved by Education Department, Health Department, National Tobacco Control Programme and Maharashtra Government and is being implemented in the schools. Action was also taken against more than 6,000 shops selling tobacco products within 100 yards of schools. Advertisements of tobacco products on more than 1000 shops were removed with the help of 24 ward officers.

This year, Bal Parishad presented officials with a charter of their demands and put forward a proposal for a Tobacco Free Next Generation.The charter included demands like every school creating its own tobacco-free school policy; students, teachers, visitors and school staff staying away from tobacco products in the school premises; taking legal action if tobacco products are sold near educational institutions; not giving licenses to new shops selling tobacco products; declaring public places to be ‘tobacco free’ so that children have a tobacco-free environment; prohibiting direct and indirect advertisement related to tobacco; sensitizing principals and teachers on ‘tobacco-free school’ during orientation etc. The previous achievements of the BalParishad had already set some inspiring precedents, which prompted officials to accept the recommendations this time too and send them to the respective departments for further action.

The event included the felicitation of Balpanchayat leaders followed by a question-answer session and a panel discussion on tobacco free schools. The event was attended by dignitaries like Mr. Shailesh Adhav, Joint Commissioner, Food & Drugs Department, Mr. Rajendra Dabhade, DCP, Mumbai Police, Dr Kanchan Banavalikar, Medical Officer, MCGM, Ms Mamta Rao, Deputy Education Officer, MCGM, Mr Sharad Bande, Superintendent, License Dept, MCGM and Dr Krishna Mathekar, Deputy Director, FSSAI, India.

Speaking about the unique workshop, Tshering Bhutia, Vice President – Projects (Preventive Health & Research) Salaam Bombay Foundation, said,“Youngsters have great power to bring about a positive change in the society and carve their own future. Till now our Bal Parishad focused mainly on the issue of tobacco control and our students tried to find solutions to tackle it. While tobacco is still a major focus, this year’s Bal Parishad’s worked on the theme of a healthier future in general for children which includes the right nutrition as well as staying away from tobacco. Bal Parishad is a platform where they get to interact with officials in important government positions and the latter too get to know what youngsters want for their future. All our Bal Parishad sessions have yielded very fruitful results.”

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