24 May, 2019

Follow the sound of bangles

Bhil women use clean energy devices following the cues of the COEL bangle, piloted with the support of the Trusts

Dark smoke rose above the small tribal village of Mahuwal in Rajasthan at nearly the same time every day. Inside the homes of the local Bhils, women were busy preparing meals on their traditional stoves.

Here, women are well aware that the smoke from their traditional stoves harms their health. Yet, many communities do not comprehend the full impact that daily exposure to high levels of indoor air pollution can have on them.

Richa, a tribal woman, felt that as she had placed her stove in a well-ventilated area, and would not be affected by the smoke. She, and many other tribal women like her, preferred to use their traditional stoves over the improved ones offered to them by the Tata Trusts.

Then, one day, Richa was offered something different — a set of bangles.

This was no ordinary piece of jewellery. The Tata Trusts, in association with Nexleaf Analytics and the SHG Federation supported by VAAGDHARA, piloted a pioneering wearable technology in the form of a bangle. The Carbon Monoxide Emission Level or COEL Bangle, developed by Grameen Intel, measured the CO and particulate matter in the wearer’s surroundings and informed them both visually and audibly when the air around them started harming their health. They also informed them of the steps they can take to mitigate it and what long-term impact it will have on their health and lives if they did not take any measures.

Styled to blend into the attire of a rural Indian woman, the bangle sits on her wrist throughout her day, warning her about hazardous environments. Along with this technology, regular follow-ups were conducted with the pilot participants.

The women who participated in this pilot were taken by surprise by the frequency of the warnings issued by the bangle as they cooked. This realisation led to some major changes in their behaviour.

Richa, astonished to discover that the COEL Bangle still rang when she cooked on her stove in a ventilated area, decided to purchase an improved stove through the Trusts’ programme.

Kanku Devi significantly increased usage when she realised that her bangle was ringing every time she cooked on her traditional stove but never with the improved stove. As an anganwadi worker, she informed other women about IAP.

As the pilot concluded, the impact of this intervention echoed in the community. Manjula, a previous participant, while roasting corn, was able to identify when the smoke billowing from her stove would become harmful to those in the vicinity.

Even short-term exposure to this wearable technology led to sustained and widespread impact in the selected geography.

Champa, a pilot participant who also worked at a highway tea shop, was astounded by the fact that her bangle rang even when trucks and cars passed by, or when crop burning was done in the neighbouring fields. She commented, “The COEL Bangle is like my mother, ever present and ever worried about my health and safety.”

Following the pilot, the Trusts and partners will now take the technology to a larger number of women in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. It will be part of a programme creating a shared framework and roadmap for sustained adoption of clean cooking solutions in India. The learning programme is being implemented in select districts across four states, in partnership with the Clean Cooking Alliance, Sambodhi Research, Nexleaf Analytics, McCann Health, Grameen Intel, TERI, SEWA, Saunta Gaunta Foundation and Dharma Life. For the first time, the wearable technology will be used to influence behaviour change for improved cooking practices, at a larger scale.

This story has been taken from the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Allied Trusts Annual Report 2017-18