Girls for Good Nutrition: Student in India shares how she became a nutrition champion

Kajal is a 17 year old girl from Madhya Pradesh, India who dreams of becoming a doctor. Good nutrition has had an impact on her life and she wants all girls and women to know the important role nutrition plays in achieving their dreams. On the International Day of the Girl Child she is sharing her story and encouraging everyone to champion good nutrition. With good nutrition she’ll grow into it!

Kajal Pawaia plays with her friends in Madhya Pradesh, India

Kajal (right of centre) and her friends in Madhya Pradesh, India

My name is Kajal Pawaia and I am one of a family of seven which includes my parents, three sisters and a brother. I am 17 years old now and since my childhood I have dreamt of becoming a doctor. Where I come from, Nayagaon, a village near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, our school is only until 10th class. To study further we need to go to the nearest town.

I was determined to achieve my aspiration and for that I had to study biology, which was not possible in my village. So, my parents enrolled me in the Girls School in Gwalior which was around 25 km from my village. In addition to regular studies in school, I also took tuitions in Raipur Village which was 2 km from my home. A lot of time was spent in this daily commute and I was often exhausted and felt dizzy.

One day, Neetu Bhabhi – the Anganwadi (health) worker in our village – invited me along with my friends for a program about anaemia prevention, where educators from Nutrition International informed us about the causes of anaemia and its prevention through regular intake of the blue-colored iron & folic acid tablet. We had seen that tablet being administered weekly in our school, but had no idea about its significance. So every time our teacher gave us the tablet we would hide it and throw it away. After all, who likes to take pills unnecessarily!

But that day at the Anganwadi Centre, we learned that all the weakness, fatigue and dizziness that we felt was because of iron deficiency, or anaemia. We carefully understood the benefits of iron supplementation and learned about iron-rich foods such as spinach, fenugreek, lentils, gram etc. Then one day, haemoglobin tests were conducted at the Centre where many girls and women got tested for iron deficiency. We were shocked to find that many of us were highly anaemic. I was convinced to try the tablet and make my diet rich in iron.

Educators from Nutrition International and the Anganwadi worker continuously encouraged us to take the iron tablets administered every Tuesday in school to prevent anaemia. In just a few months of taking the tablet I could observe improvement in my daily energy. The fatigue, weakness and dizziness that I used to feel earlier had gradually reduced and I was able to concentrate on my studies.

The change in my energy levels was evident. I encouraged other girls and women of the village to take the IFA tablets. Today, 40 girls in our village take the iron tablet every week. However, still 72% of our district’s girls and women are anaemic. We must motivate all of them for iron and folic acid supplementation by educating them about its benefits.

I often see women in our village applying a variety of creams, face powders, lipsticks to enhance their beauty. I want to tell them that beauty lies within yourself and if you are healthy you will look beautiful. If they take iron supplements regularly they will not need to invest in cosmetics and their hard-earned money will also be well spent on their good health. Investments in good health and nutrition have the best returns.

Visit www.nutritionintl.org/shellgrowintoit to learn more about the With Good Nutrition She’ll Grow Into It campaign.