By the Brahmaputra (April – June 2018)

By the Brahmaputra (Vol: 42) / C-NES Newsletter / April - June 2018


SALT Knowledge Fair

Supported by Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA) and Constellation, C-NES organized a Knowledge Fair on 27th April 2018, at Pragjyoti ITA Centre, Guwahati, Assam. Community facilitators and champions of the SALT intervened villages shared successful stories and experiences which emerged during the one year project implementation period. In this context it was dream building for better health of their children through immunization and how communities took steps through action plan after self-assessment. Apart from the immunization there were also other priorities which had emerged from the process and included issues like safe drinking water and sanitation, nutrition, child marriage among others. Group discussions were held where the groups shared their experiences with the SALT approach. SALT representatives from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Manipur Himachal & Delhi were also present and shared their experiences.

Facilitator Noor Jamal interacting with the local champions of the community at Bongaigaon”s Sonakhuli pt 2 village

Earlier during the week similar events were held in the 3 districts (Udalguri, Bongaigaon and Kamrup), where champions and community representatives including health workers (ASHA/AWW) from most of the targeted villages & district health officials participated. There were 78 participants at the event including Rituu B. Nanda  from Constellation, Veena Singh, Tahseen Alam and Dr Maulik Shah from UNICEF, Sandra Albert,  Director, IIPH Shillong, Preety Rajbangshi (PHFI), Delhi, Arpita Ghosh (George Institute, PHFI) Santosh M R- Assistant Professor, TISS Guwahati, Radhika Menon- Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer, Durgadas Menon- Communications Officer besides the C-NES and VHAA teams and the community facilitators and champions from Bongaigaon, Kamrup and Udalguri.

Constellation, a registered not for profit organization and C-NES are working (from February 2017) on a project titled “Impact assessment of the SALT ( Stimulate, Appreciate, Learn and Transfer) approach of community engagement to increase immunizations coverage through ownership – a mixed methods study in Assam”. C-NES had been given the responsibility to conduct the project in 30 villages of Bongaigaon district while Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA)  have been given Kamrup (Rural)and  Udalguri districts. The Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) Shillong with support from International Initiative for Impact Evaluation will evaluate and conduct impact assessment for the project and the SALT approach. The partnership’s main objective is to improve children’s health via increased immunization uptake. 

Participants at the three day training of SALT facilitators at Guwahati from 20- 23 June 2018 supported by the Constellation team from Belgium and Delhi. Sessions on WASH by UNICEF and Nutrition by NHM were conducted.


Majuli’s Tears

(a book by Jadumoni Hazarika)

Since the past nearly 8 years Jadumani Hazarika has been serving the Boat Clinic Unit at Jorhat as a dedicated community worker. Working under extremely challenging physical conditions, 24X7 with the entire 15 member team (as do the rest of our Boat Clinic units- 15 in all) making sure that the insular river island dwellers around Majuli, the world’s largest river island, do not miss out on health camps.In his spare time, he writes. He has a lot to write.. his experiences, life on board, the river island dwellers , their misery with annual floods, the constant dangers of erosion, and the mighty river itself. He has finally published his work” Majulir Sakulu” (Majuli’s tears) to inspire a lot many young people to share Majuli’s stories with the world.

Media Coverage

Held as a flagship innovative programme by the Government of Assam, the Central Government and UNICEF, the boat clinics have been written about extensively in local, regional, national, and international media. Follows the media coverage this quarter.


Environmentalist Almitra Patel Visits Boat Clinic

Noted environmentalist Almitra Patel, also member of the Supreme Court committee for Solid waste management for Class 1 cities, Technical expert, Swachh Bharat Mission, Government of India, attended  a boat clinic health  camp during her recent visit to Assam in June 2018. A philanthropist, she donated solar lamps remote villages in the Brahmaputra river islands in Assam. She felt the need of the communities inhabiting the islands while reading an article on the Boat Clinics written by Devjyot Ghosal in the Quartz India online magazine  and appreciated C-NES’ innovative  health outreach  work in the Brahmaputra islands. Patel is also the first Indian woman engineer to graduate from MIT in 1959. She has been working to solve India’s urban garbage problem for the past 25 years, after retirement from heading a refractories firm. On 8th June 2018 she accompanied C-NES’ Kamrup boat Clinic team for a health camp. On 9th June she made a presentation at the Guwahati Municipal Corporation on garbage disposal . The C-NES team also accompanied her visiting garbage sources, dumping grounds around the city. Today exactly 399 solar street lamps, with light sensors which automatically function, have been installed in the islands where the Boat Clinics provide health care, one for each village in an area where the community congregates like prayer halls, school buildings, market places. They light up the islands post sunset. 


Researcher visits Boat Clinic

Dr. Shirish interviewing a villager at Bhekeli 2 No Sapori

Dr. Shirish N R, a researcher from Bengaluru’s SELCO foundation visited and stayed onboard the Jorhat Boat Clinic for three days. A co-founder of “Ideas Unbound –Ideas for better tomorrow”, he interviewed villagers about transportation and medical services. His focus was to find out the various problems of island villagers including how they were getting health facilities during monsoon and winter season.


Sanjoy Hazarika at Commonwealth meeting


C-NES Managing Trustee Sanjoy Hazarika is also the International Director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives and leads the South Asia Media Defenders Networks (SAMDEN). He is seen here( April 2018) at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London where CHRI organized a series of well attended side events ranging from pretrial detention, Small States at Chatham House, a film festival on human rights at the British Museum in collaboration with Commonwealth Foundation, a panel on the Gambia, the release of the CHRI report to CHOGM on SDG 8.7 (human trafficking, bonded labour, child labour and modern slavery).


“Strangers No More” launched at Guwahati and Shillong

Sanjoy Hazarika in conversation with Dhurba Hazarika at Guwahati’s  Racquet and Billiards Club

Sanjoy Hazarika’s latest book “Strangers No More” was launched at Guwahati’s  Racquet and Billiards Club  on 27th May 2018where he was  in conversation with Dhurba Hazarika, author and  Chairman of Assam State Public Service Commission.  He read passages from the book and there was an energetic round of question and answers with audience followed by conversations.

The Heritage Club, Shillong, and Aleph Books, organized the launch of Hazarika’s book at Shillong on 1 June, 2018 where the Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya released the book at the Heritage Club followed by the authors conversation with Patrica Mukhim, editor of the Shillong Times, and Dr. Glen Kharkhongor, former Vice Chancellor of Martin Luther University.


UNICEF team visit

On 23rd  May 2018 a health cum awareness camp was conducted by the Dhubri Boat Clinic I at  Sutlamari where the UNICEF Assam team led by Dr Tushar Rane (Chief Field Officer,UNICEF NE Office,Dr Shweta Sarma,Nutrition Specialist ,state (UNICEF),Dr Sridhar,Health Officer,State (UNICEF),Mr Manish Khetawat,Program Associate including the District Program Manager NHM,Dhubri & District Community Mobilizer NHM,Dhubri were present . The camp was conducted  at the Sutlamari L.P School, prior to which the awareness  session on Non Communicable Diseases ,Clean Drinking Water and Routine Immunization was conducted  by the DPO.Sultan Nekib and the health team. The UNICEF group appreciated the dedicated service of the health team.


Awareness camp at Dhemaji

Diarrhea is the one of the most important cause of under-five mortality globally in spite of being easily preventable and curable. This is largely due to the lack of knowledge regarding cost-effective interventions tackling diarrheal diseases. The Dhemaji Boat Clinic conducted an awareness camp on Diarrheo at Kobu Sapori on 14th May 2018. The objective of the camp was to reduce childhood diarrhoea and make the villagers aware how easy measures can prevent diarrhoea.MO Kishor Das and Mr Bhupen Taid, community worker gave a deliberate speech on different types of diarrhea and oral rehydration therapy and zinc treatment can prevent diarrhea.

65 people participated in the camp including village schoolmaster, headman and the villagers.


Sessions on IEC/BCC

The Bongaigaon Boat Clinic organized a series of IEC/BCC activities with the help of District NHM, DHS as directed by the Joint Director of health service Bongaiagon. The first phase of programme started from 8th to 10th March-2018 on Pneumonia and Diarrhea with group discussions, the second phase was community meeting on complementary feeding and the third was on prevention of child marriage  from 13th to 17th March -2018. The sessions were held in different island villages covered by the boat clinic. The boat clinic  community worker and ASHA played an active role gathering the community which was divided into groups based on topics relevant to each.  Group discussions were held in various locations – the deck of the boat, on the river bank, school and mosque campus. Through village meetings, organizing dramas and street plays, beating drum, chocolate distribution among school going children, recreational activities at school it was ensured that villagers enthusiastically took part in the events. DPO Monjur Hussain Mondal informed the Joint Director of health service, DPM, DME regarding the outcome and the community response. The Boat Clinic Medical Officers spoke on population control and family planning .


Akha back in service

C-NES’ first Boat Clinic Akha, built with an award money from the World Bank in 2004, has been providing health care service to remote Brahmaputra islands in upper Assams Dibrugarh district since 2005. This photograph taken on 25th May 2018 shows the boat with beneficiaries, back in service after a 5 month break due to repair. The boats need at least one major annual set of repairs so that the safety component is not compromised. Boat repairs take long and major repairs can only be done during the dry months of winter when camps are conducted with the help of smaller country boats. Lifting of boats like SB AKHA to the bank for repair is not easy- it requires specialized skill apart from weather and river water condition.


We love our children and always hope that they should get the best services, our generation has passed their lives without any preventive vaccines. In those days because of ignorance and inaccessibility of service were the main causes. Today most families have access to  radio and mobile phones and  have the boat clinic facility at our door step, ASHA and AWW are in the village to educate people on this,  yet we see that many parents reluctant to give vaccines to their children. This is because of their blind affection towards their children as some parents cannot bear the pain of the child during or after vaccination. Superstition is another reason. Some in the island villages still think that diseases and sufferings are due to discontentment of respective Gods/Goddess, they spend a lot of money worshiping various deities but never take the preventive measures.  Another inherent factor is the deep sense of uncertainty-of life, livelihood and property. They do not want to annoy the super power believing that vaccination and use of preventive or curative medicine are challenges to the Gods/ Goddess. So, to help these people to overcome this sense of depression there is a need to plan innovative means of sensitization. These factors prevent positive development of the community and we need to sensitize and make them aware   

Panchanan Yadav,
Teacher, social worker
Mohmora chapori


Deworming camp at Morigaon

Children and young adults are most vulnerable to worm infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 241 million children between the ages of 1 to 14 years are at risk of parasitic intestinal worm in India, known as soil-transmitted helminthes (STH). These parasitic infection result from poor sanitation and hygiene condition, and are easily transmitted among children through contact with infected soil. Worm can cause anemia and under – nutrition, thereby impairing mental and physical development. Children with the highest intensity of worm infestation are often too sick or too tired to concentrate at school or attend school at all. Subsequent life outcomes for these children are also considerably impacted due to lower lifetime incomes.  

As per National Centre for Disease Control (2016) the prevalence of worms in Assam is 50% and is among the high prevalence state in India. Similarly, prevalence of under-nutrition (stunting) is 36% while prevalence of anemia among adolescent is 47% in Assam. This necessitates deworming among all especially children and adolescent of 1 to 19 years.

The objective of NDD is to de-worm all preschool and school-age children between the age of 1-19 years through the platform of School/ Collage and Anganwadi centre in order to improve their overall health, nutritional status, access to education and quality of the life. It can be done by using tablet Albendazole in single dose, which is to be chewed and swallowed along with water.

This year the first round of National De-worming Day was observed on 12th February, 2018 in Assam and the Mop Up on  17th February 2018. Accordingly Morigaon Boat Clinic team tried to generate mass awareness among the beneficiaries of the island villages. The team organized several awareness sessions in the local dialect led by the Medical officer of the unit Dr. Asraful Islam, the District Program Officer (DPO) the Community Worker (CW) and ANM of the unit.

Along with the awareness sessions Albendazole 400 mg tablets were distributed. All school going children were given tablets in their respective school under the supervision of school teachers, anganwadi workers and the remaining children were given the medicine from the Boat clinic team.

A report by Shyamjit Pashi
DPO, Morigaon Boat Clinic Unit


Diabetes awareness and eye screening

In March 2018, a special awareness camp was organised by the Jorhat Boat Clinic Unit at Salmora village of upper Majuli on Diabetic awareness and eye screening. Lions Eye Hospital and Satyam Hospital of Jorhat took the responsibility of organizing this special camp led by academician Dr. Nirmola Sarmah. Seven diabetic cases were detected and they were given  free treatment at Lions Eye Hospital.


Moringa seeds  distributed

Moringa seeds being distributed among farmers by the Jorhat Boat Clinic at Bhekeli 1 and Bhekeli 2 No village. This initiative by all Boat Clinic Units have been undertaken after being supported with the seeds sent by donor Almitra Patil.  Moringa seeds are cheap, renewable and highly-nutritious food supplement and can alleviate nutritional deficiencies among the economically weaker sections.


Photos from the field..


Glimpses from a health camp in Tinsukia

Challenges of Access

The photographs (above) show the challenges of accessing health camps in remote island villages. During monsoon, commuting long distances to the river bank to board the boat clinic is very difficult. Most often roads are in need of repair. At times they have to psuh their hired vehicle out of the slush. The teams have to  walk a long way. The Barpeta Unit II Boat Clinic team  has been using bullock carts during this monsoon as it is not easy walking such long distances.


Brahmaputra Community Radio Station

Every Saturday Radio Brahmaputra goes live with isolated, difficult to reach communities. Thanks to it’s indigenously designed ‘narrow-casting’ which will include a group of people and in the middle, a transistor radio tuned at 90.4 MHz. The idea behind the live program is to come out with discussion and solution to various issues. Brahmaputra Live asks pertinent questions to people, the issue at present being, what are those socioeconomic factors that are holding the society back. Young people being the future were asked about the same.  The conversation that Rumi Nayak, the community producer of Radio Brahmaputra had with young men and women of Sessa Tea Estate on 2nd April 2018 was engaging as the young people, especially the girls were very vocal.  The “ADDA” will be aired as part of Brahmaputra Live.  (a live radio show airing on Radio Brahmaputra 90.4 MHz). The agenda of the program is voicing through participation of rural communities those who hardly have access to other media platforms.


Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

On the occasion of the World Environment Day, 5th June, 2018 a session on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and  Flood and Preventive Health Behaviors was organized by BCRS at Kallowlowa Deori Adarsha Gaon the most flood affected village under Khowang Development Block. Groups of women from the indigenous Deori community participated in various activities through knowledge assessment, cause analysis, assessment on probable situation, practice mapping and community action tools.

Women from the indigenous Deori community participating in a session on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Flood and Preventive Health Behaviors by BCRS

Bhaskar Bhuyan, Coordinator of Brahmaputra Community Radio Station (BCRS) presenting the radio’s work on “Skill Development and Community Media” chapter at the 26th Annual Conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre – AMIC 2018 at Manipal, Karnataka from 5th to 7th of June 2018.In the session “Community Media and Skill Development: he presented the radio programme initiatives along with research and field level interventions on “Skilled Society” for the community youth living in the tea gardens and islands of River Brahmaputra along with other co-panelist from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka .The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) and Dr. Anamika Ray Memorial Trust provided the opportunity and support to BCRS and gave it a platform to share the work being done.



Voyage on the Brahmaputra

by Manik Chandra Boruah

Although we have been travelling frequently to the islands of the Brahmaputra as part of the Boat Clinic project of C-NES  being implemented among the island communities along the course of the Brahmaputra from Sadiya to Dhubri covering 13 districts of Assam, this was the first continuous adventurous travel of 3 days on Boat Clinic SB Pallabi from Dibrugarh (Maijanghat) to Morigaon (Lahorighat) passing through the various stages of this  meandering river with turbulent monsoon flow, crossing as many as 11 districts (Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sivsagar, Jorhat, Majuli, Golaghat, Biswanath, Nagaon, Sonitpur and Morigaon).  The raw, untamed  beauty, power and vastness of the river, problems of floods, erosion, life and livelihoods, future potentials and opportunities were the various thoughts that struck us. The objective of this trip was to bring S.B. Pallabi, one among five boats donated by eminent writer- columnist Swaminathan Aiyar and named after his daughter(the rest of the boats are also named after the members of his family) to conduct health camps at central Assam’s  Morigaon district.

The distance covered during this three day sailing trip was about 350 kilometres. There were seven persons on board including five members of the boat crew (2 from Morigaon, two from Dibrugah and one hired), the DPO, Morigaon Boat Clinic, Shyamjit Pashi and I. Due to lack of a high quality camera, we  failed to get  good photos during this memorable journey full of picturesque scenes. I can recall my earlier journey made with C-NES’ Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika on 31st December 2017 from Dibrugarh to Majuli. The river then was quite calm since the water level had considerably subsided being winter. Most of the water was concentrated in the main channel. It was also easier to sail  because of route signals (markas) affixed by the IWAI. 

The Journey: Day-1 (25th June 2018)

Before the journey began, a prayer was offered to “Baba Brahmaputra” by the Crew members and Shyamjit during the wee hours and the journey started at 7 am from Maijan, Dibrugarh after enjoying our morning cup of tea prepared by Promod Dutta, the cook of Dibrugarh Boat Clinic team. The water channel passing through Maijan towards Bogibeel was found to be unsafe and hence the boat  sailed upstream  to Nagaghuli to reach the main channel from where it flows towards Sengajan, Dhemaji the northern side. From the middle the main channel was found to be diverted to  many channels and it was confusing as to which one to follow.  Md. Saharuddin, the master of Morigaon Boat Clinic sailed the boat to a channel, which got shallow after bifurcating and the boat got stuck in knee deep water and it took around 20 minutes to recover and pull it  down to the main channel. From Panbari and Sonarighat of north bank, all channels moved towards the southern side and meets at Bogibeel ghat. Rajkumar Majhi, the main master got on to the boat at Bogibeel and from there he guided the entire trip. We crossed the Bogibeel bridge at 11.11 am. From the Bogibeel ghat the main channel  took a northern direction up to Tekeliphuta ghat in Dhakuakhana from where it turns to a southern direction to Dihingmukh and Disangmukh. From Disangmukh the main channel directly hits Majuli at Halmora village famous for potteries, also a highly erosion prone area. Protecting Jorhat has been a keen issue since severe erosion has hit Nimatighat in spite of placing of geo textile bags filled with sand. I was surprised to see that in some places almost half of the PWD road has been eroded and WRD was still trying to fix them with sand filled geo bags. I doubt that will  protect future erosion.

We reached  Nimatighat at 4.50 pm and decided to spend the night there. We had carried kerosene stove for cooking and it was  difficult to cook for seven persons at a time and required repeated pumping of air after  short intervals to keep the fire strong and so consumed boiled potatoes and eggs along with rice for both breakfast and lunch. We managed to purchase a rohu fish from the nearby market for dinner.  
Spur at Xalmora due to which Nimatighat is facing threat from erosion: PC: Shyamjit


The Journey: Day-2 (26th June 2018):

We have started our journey the second day very early at 4.45 am. It was a cloudy morning and soon after moving it started raining heavily and the boat faced Sun set at Nimati ghat.

With Jorhat team at Namoni Bhekeli on 26th June morning:

Disturbance while sailing

From Nimati we moved to Kamalabari ghat and got down there for some time to find out about the route from the IWT personnel present there. We had a cup of tea from a local vendor there and resumed journey.

After moving a few kms downstream, the main channel was found to be diversified to various channels. It was more troublesome due to heavy rain and dense fog all around. A boat  coming behind us  also became invisible. With the help of Google map and telephonic guidance from the Jorhat Boat Clinic team we could sail the boat slowly and about half an hour later the weather became clear and we met the Jorhat team at Namoni Bhekeli sapori at 8.30 am. We had tea with them and took a group photo. We were all excited. It was sad to see the trend of severe erosion everywhere in lower Majuli.

With Jorhat team at Namoni Bhekeli on 26th June morning:

From Namoni Bhekeil we moved slightly south and then towards the north bank (Gohpur) and from Gohpur to Numaligarh again and thus we sailed in zig-zag pattern thrice from north bank to south bank till reaching Bokakhat from where the main channel takes a complete southern direction. It was observed that the width of the river is considerably narrowing from Gohpur- Numaligarh till Bhumuraguri and interestingly we did not see any ghat (river port) and habitation from Numaligarh till Silghat near Bhumuraguri. From Dhanshirimukh,the famous Kaziranga National Park geographically starts and it was a three hour journey through the National Park, the abode of wilderness which was really unforgettable. Kaziranga is a wonderful creation of nature. We could see about  nine herds of wild elephants not less than 50 in each herd, herds of wild buffaloes, deer, and some 10-12 rhinos. Erosion is also creating a big question mark on the very existence of the park in near future as the main channel of the Brahmaputra is taking a completely southern side and we saw that erosion has happened in various places. Surprisingly with poaching so rampant and wildlife so threatened we saw only two boats with two or three forest guards of Forest Department, one in Numaligarh point and the other near Silghat . There was  no other river patrol or  watch towers in the entire 80-90 km long stretch.

The Silghat hillock and sun set at Tezpur: PC- Manik Boruah

From Silghat, the tail end of Kaziranga (the sixth addition), the river takes a sharp curve towards the north bank up to Kalia Bhumura bridge and Tezpur Jahaj Ghat. It was very difficult crossing the Kalia Bhumura bridge because of huge whirlpools created by the pillars of the existing Kalia Bhumura and the new bridge coming up and the power grid tower. We crossed it about 4 pm.                   

The setting sun meets the clouds and the mighty river: PC- Manik Boruah

Stayed for a while at Tezpur Jahajghat and bought a few litres of diesel from Tezpur town and also a broiler chicken for dinner. Since we had some time in hand, we decided to move to Telia gaon a downstream village, where S.B. Numali (Sonitpur Boat Clinic) was docked. After travelling for about 14 hours we reached Telia gaon at 7 pm and spent the night there after a delicious chicken curry dinner  prepared by Jiban Paul.      

The Journey: Day-3 (27th June 2018):

We started third day’s journey too very early. Although it was raining we left for Morigaon at 4 am. Just after sailing downstream, two small hillocks were found  from where the main water channel moves towards Lahorighat, one of the worst erosion prone areas of the state. We  reached Lahorighat at 7.30 am and found it difficult to anchor the boat due to bank erosion. Also met the  Morigaon Boat Clinic team there and had a ride with them. They were  very happy to get their own boat after long years of waiting.


Some Concerns and issues  

While on the river it was felt that it could not be controlled or managed through dredging the bed. Instead of taming or dredging and blocking, it has to be allowed to flow its own way. Focus has to be made more on non-structural measures i.e. capacity building of communities through trainings/ workshops, proper relief and rehabilitation packages, introducing alternative livelihood opportunities, better contingency planning, massive plantation drive along the bank line areas, banning excavation of sand/ boulders etc. in the river courses of hilly areas, ensure early warning system among others. It was disturbing to see the delay in the process work  undertaken by the WRD, especially in repairing of embankments and erosion protection measures. The photograph  affixed below shows that there was a village with pucca houses and full facilities in Lahorighat but due to severe erosion people  left their beloved village and  many more such villages and taken shelter either on the embankments or rented houses in the towns to earn livelihoods.

Majuli has been declared as the district and also represented by the Chief Minister of Assam. But the ghats (both Nimati and Kamalabari) indicate that nothing has  changed there. Plastics and  garbage were lying everywhere. There are no toilet facilities at Kamalabari ghat.The toilet which was constructed in Nimati ghat was not maintained well and in an un-usable condition. There is a high potential for river cruises for tourists from Majuli to Silghat under cultural and natural heritage tour.   But the tourism potential has not been properly utilized.


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