By Mitul Daiyan and Karima Ladhani
The past three weeks in India flew by with such speed that we’re still reeling! We succeeded in accomplishing what we set out to do and the process has been nothing short of extraordinary. Only by being entrenched in fieldwork were we able to truly get a grasp of what does and doesn’t work in the Indian context and we have come away with new ideas that we are eager to implement. In keeping with the human-centered design approach, we modified and refined our initial prototypes based on feedback from our focus groups, until they were finally ready to be given away. After identifying three mothers who recently gave birth in the village of Jetalpur, arms laden with prototypes, we took to the road to complete the final task in our #bundleofbundles Product Development Pilot. Here are some glimpses from our final day in the field:
Tin House Structure
Far from the sounds of the highway and deep within fields of rice paddies, our first stop was Vidya Bhen’s* house. It was a one-room structure but with a high ceiling covered with tin, spacious but sparse. There were a few hammock-type beds on the side and a stove for cooking that rested in the corner. Vidya Bhen sat quietly on the bed nursing her five day old daughter. Together with our translator, Minjan, we asked her about her hopes and dreams for her baby, conducted interactive activities to better understand her priorities during childcare, and finally presented her with the ghodiyu-inspired prototype. She answered quietly, sharing with us that she had been pregnant a total of five times but lost two of her children. When asked what her concerns were for her child, her mother-in-law stated blankly that they didn’t stop worrying until the child was about a foot tall. Only then was it safe to assume that the child was strong enough to survive. Vidya Bhen sifted through the items, hesitating when she came across something unfamiliar, often not opening a package if it wasn’t obvious from the get go what it was (This was an important learning for us!). Every member of her family was unable to read and so they eagerly listened to the audio recording we had included to explain Barakat Bundle and the uses for the items inside. When we told her that she would get to keep the items and the bundle, she expressed quiet gratitude that was humbling to see.
A Solid Home
The next home we visited was vastly different from the first. While the family certainly lived off the beaten path and definitely within the heart of the village, they lived in a compound comprised of a few buildings. We entered the home without shoes and were taken to a sparse but well decorated drawing room. The mother, Amrita Bhen, was sitting on the floor beside her baby who rested in a makeshift godhiyu – i.e. a sari tied to two bedposts to create a small hammock. This was a temporary place for the baby that the family was using until the mother’s family came after a few months to deliver gifts (including the real wooden ghodiyu frame). Amrita was a quiet woman and as we dived deeper into the interview, other members of the family who surrounded her often chimed in to supplement her answers. Given that the flat surface of the floor was evenly cemented over, this house was ideal for our rolling prototype. This specific bundle was perched on wheels to make it easy to move the bundle back and forth to mimic a rocker or swing. Though Amrita Bhen’s responses were subdued, her family members were enthusiastic on her behalf. It was clear that they liked both the bundle and the items – so much so that her pregnant sister-in-law approached us as we were leaving and asked that we return with a bundle for her after she delivers her baby!
Walls Made of Brush
Renuka Bhen resided in tiny one room structure made of brush that barely resembled a wall. A tin roof lay over the structure and meager light streamed in through the holes. There was only room enough for two people but six of us we managed to crowd in. A fan whirred above us but died soon after we arrived and Renuka Bhen stood up on top of one of the beds and started poking live wires into an outlet to try and get it working again. She was so concerned about our comfort and we were so concerned about her safety – she wouldn’t listen to us though and eventually managed to elicit a spark and the fan started up again. Two cots stood side by side with a makeshift ghodiyu tied to a corner. Her 3-month-old baby sat on her lap, her bright eyes taking in everything. Like most of the babies we encountered, her daughter did not wear a diaper and every so often would urinate directly onto Renuka Bhen’s sari. When Renuka Bhen noticed this, she would hold her baby over the side of the bed to let her finish and then place her back on her lap. This was not an uncommon strategy but the unhygienic practice made us wonder how we could convince a mother who is unfazed by her current baby sanitation practices to adopt something that requires more work because it minimizes the fecal bacteria than can spread and possibly cause infection in the future? This is a HUGE knowledge barrier and an even larger behavior change challenge. Definitely something for the Barakat Bundle and Agenda 28 team to mull over! We had some questions in our interview about what you would buy for your baby if you had a lot of money and this woman’s first answer was “I would fix my house and buy food” – she couldn’t comprehend why she would focus on items for the baby with extra money when they had so many basic needs to be met. We presented her with the final protoype designed to only be a place for the baby to rest and are very curious to see how the bundle, as well as the accompanying items, will be utilized.
There’s something to be said about the absence of bearing weight. In the past three weeks, Barakat Bundle and Agenda 28 lugged our prototypes all around Ahmedabad, from pristine government official offices to the remote villages in Jetalpur. The prototypes were big, sometimes heavy, but they were a constant presence during our trip. We bore the weight of their absence as each prototype left our hold and into the welcoming and grateful arms of the mothers we spoke with. As oddly bittersweet as it was, it was also an extraordinary milestone. Their absence for us meant an actual present for the mothers we were serving.
The recipient mothers lived in diverse settings but ultimately wanted for their child what they didn’t have- from education to the basic need for security. It is Barakat Bundle’s goal to serve these mothers and to ensure that they have the necessary tools to give their children an equal and healthful start. In October, Agenda 28 will return to these mothers and follow up to see what they used/didn’t use, what they liked/didn’t like, and get in-depth feedback to inform the final stage of product development. As we continue on this journey, we will continue to involve the families who we want to serve in the process, iterate based on our new learnings, and maintain strong commitment to mothers like Vidya Bhen, Amrita Bhen, and Renuka Bhen and their babies.
*Names of mothers changed for confidentiality purposes.