| Meena with ‘best friend’ Mithu: The courage to change
Meena is a very busy nine-year-old. She has places to go, people to meet, a world to change. And when she turns 10 on September 24, thousands will be around to celebrate the funny, practical, down-to-earth little child who can take on just about anyone or anything.
We all know Meena. We’ve possibly all seen her roaming the green plains with Raju, Rani and her best friend Mithu, her wise parrot. But the message that is going out now is that even if one doesn’t know Meena, it’s okay. Because there is a little bit of Meena in everyone.
To create a role model for girls and boys in South Asia is how the Meena Communication Initiative was kick-started by Unicef in 1991. After two years of research, the cherubic young girl and her family and friends came into being, and was ready to be introduced to young boys and girls. By 1993, she became the star of a TV series and the prima donna of endless comic books.
The “vulnerable yet optimistic and proactive” character was devised to “address key child rights issues” through “edutainment”. Meena does not lecture anyone, but she has the courage to make a change in the perception of children in general, in her own family and society. So far, she has tackled problems as diverse as child marriage and HIV/AIDS. She has taught her family how to increase their income and stayed on in school as a result.
Multi-lingual Meena has found her way from Bangladesh (where she began) to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Vietnam and Cambodia. A Unicef team in Africa is working on an alternative model relevant to that society. Locally, Child in Need Institute (CINI), ICDS and the DPEP have widely used the perky icon in Calcutta and the districts over the past decade.
The growing demand for Meena resources has prompted Unicef to tie up with Macmillan for mass production of the books. The shows have all been professionally produced in Mumbai. At a recent meet in Allahabad, there was talk of introducing Meena to a formal classroom environment.
The coming weeks will see a flurry of activity, around Meena Day on September 24, organised in collaboration with Unicef. In four districts, workshops will be held to coincide with the Week of the Girl Child. Sessions on how to use Meena to “change attitudes” through mass communicators and folk groups will also be held.
Prayasam, a Salt Lake-based NGO, is also set to launch Meena in its Dakshindari project area. The child “area-health minders” will incorporate her in their patrols. Now, Meena will say all the things Prayasam’s kid crew says — don’t litter, wash your hands before meals, keep your homes clean… Workshops will have the kids organising role-plays and muppet shows on problems like drug abuse and early marriage, and discovering the way Meena thinks and negotiates situations.
But what difference does Meena make' Says Amlan Ganguly of Prayasam: “The kids, no matter how proactive, need a role model. This will give them a boost. It will reassure them that even as young kids, they can all make a difference.”
— MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA