Salaam Bombay Foundation releases findings on a joint study with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the health of adolescents, especially the underprivileged, highlighting the need for positive interventions to help them deal with the heightened vulnerabilities.

Mumbai-based NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation undertook a cross-sectional case control evaluation study, in collaboration with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to examine the effect of the multi-layered interventions for underprivileged adolescents between April and June 2020, the lockdown period after the pandemic hit the country. The interventions – held during the early days of the pandemic across various communities of Mumbai – had adopted a three-pronged approach of Happy Mind Calls, Skill Building Activities and Food Relief.

The study aimed to evaluate and assess the impact of these interventions on the social and psychological wellbeing of under-privileged adolescents, who have been a part of the Salaam Bombay Foundation program.

The study, that covered 630 students found over 80% students giving a positive response while engaging with a facilitator. As many as 72% students enjoyed the Happy Mind Calls while the food relief added a feeling of strong support during a tough situation like the pandemic. Further, 85% expressed instant willingness, indicating they wanted someone to talk to them, engage with them, play with them. The study concluded that such calls are important for young people as they elicited robust participation from them and encouraged them to express themselves better which is critical during such difficult circumstances.

Speaking about the initiative, Dr. Manasi Bawdekar, Vice President – Research and M&E, Salaam Bombay Foundation, said, “Adolescence can, in general, be a rough time as many youngsters wrestle with emotional problems. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. This study was an eye opener on why it’s imperative to communicate with youngsters in this age group and how not just parents but teachers and facilitators from alternative modes of education can bring about a positive change. The impact of the overall intervention lasted for almost six months, which is testimony to its importance and success. We need more such holistic activities for adolescents as it makes them feel valued when we approach them as equals, respect their views and leverage their response.”

Echoing her thoughts, Dr. K. “Vish” Viswanath, PhD, Professor of Health Communication, Harvard, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Director, Harvard Chan India Research Centre, said“It is now widely recognized that among the many negative outcomes of COVID-19 is the impact it had or continuing to have on people’s mental health. The impact on children has been even more profound given the disruption in schooling, engaging with classmates and friends, and loss of a typical childhood as they knew it before the pandemic.

In this context, the program of Salaam Bombay Foundation that engaged students through what is called as Happy Mind Calls is innovative and impressive. This brief intervention of one phone call supplemented with other activities such as skill-building, playing games or food relief where needed, appears to have had a solid and demonstrable positive impact on children’s emotional well-being. The evaluation of the program in collaboration with our team at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health clearly shows that SBF’s calls made the students happy and feel connected. They must have communicated to the children that they matter. And, that someone cares for them.

This is an innovative approach that can be done remotely, easily scalable and impactful. This approach offers an illuminating pathway for working with children not just during the pandemic but to engage them during other times too. I congratulate SBF on developing and executing such an innovative program that is not only impactful but also serves as a model for others.”