During pandemic, chatbot delivered recipes, bedtime stories to anganwadi beneficiaries
The chatbot initiative was activated in October 2020 under the department’s Tarang Suposhit Maharashtracha, and was envisioned to reach out to anganwadi beneficiaries with information
Mumbai Mamta Mhaske, a 25-year-old resident of Pandharpur’s Bhalawani village, was worried when her three-year-old daughter became an erratic eater. When she was racking her brain for ideas, she came across an AI-based chatbot developed by the state’s Women and Child Development (WCD) department, where she found nutritious recipes for children, bedtime stories to keep them engaged and other interventions for early childhood development.
“I was struggling to get her to eat every day and a bout of dengue had worsened her health further. It really helped when I started experimenting with the recipes I received on WhatsApp,” said Mhaske, adding that she cooked rava (semolina) ladoos with jaggery, potato and nachni parathas, leafy vegetable parathas, wheat kheer and many other dishes for her daughter Manasvi.
“Her eating pattern improved gradually as she enjoyed these new recipes. I didn’t mind cooking as they were really simple. My daughter also loves to listen to the stories that come on the chat every day,” she said.
The chatbot initiative was activated in October 2020 under the department’s Tarang Suposhit Maharashtracha, and was envisioned to reach out to the anganwadi beneficiaries with relevant information as the anganwadi centres remained shut during the pandemic. Since then, the chatbot has been used by 15,09,039 people across the state and the toll-free IVR number has received as many as 26,11,922 calls.
“People have reached out and told us that they found the information received on the chat very beneficial,” said Jayashree Vhankade, an anganwadi supervisor from Pandharpur who is in charge of 35 anganwadi centres in eight villages.
“Many new mothers told us that they saw a visible change in the eating patterns of their children when they tried our recipes. Some of them even noticed weight gain in children who were earlier undernourished,” she said.
The chatbot and the IVR can be reached on 8080809063. The number was popularised with the help of posters in villages. “All anganwadi workers were also asked to reach out to their beneficiaries and ask them to message on the WhatsApp number,” said Vhankade.
The chatbot currently responds in the Marathi language after an individual sends hi, hello, namaskar or simply emoticons such as a waving hand or folded hands. It then asks for the beneficiary’s name, village and district, before rolling out a series of options to click on, which include information on Covid, nutritious recipes, care during pregnancy, information on breastfeeding, early childhood development of children between 0 to three years, healthcare information for adolescent girls, pre-school education among other options. More options with voice messages are rolled out as one selects their choices.
The recipe videos have anganwadi workers and supervisors narrating and cooking. Many of the recipes have been shared by the anganwadi workers too.
“The initiative was aimed at establishing a direct connection with the anganwadi beneficiaries as the centres were rendered non-functional due to Covid,” said Shashwat Kulkarni, a programme officer of the Rajmata Jijau Mother-Child Health and Nutrition Mission under the WCD.
“There are over 500 different videos and media available under the dropdown options and we will keep on updating them,” he said. The WCD department plans to roll out the Hindi language option soon and more upgrades are underway too.