Work you do does make a difference in life; and when it does to other’s life, its worth doing! Sometimes you like your work, but even better is when the work starts liking you. I am proud of myself today; but it has not been like this forever.
It seemed that my nose-ring (like a noose) kept me bound to the house, even after my husband left to work abroad. With two small kids dependent on me, it was criminal for me to sit quietly at home. I would spend most of my time in useless household work, which would still leave me with a feeling so empty and useless. I wanted to do something for my children, myself and my village.
It was then that I heard about the vacancy for the post of ASHAs in the block, and got selected and tagged as “Meera Kumari” ASHA-Parsa (where I had come as a young bride sometime back). Even after the selection it took me a long time to start my work; for once there was nothing like any training organized for us. We were left to work and learn on our own. During our monthly ASHA meets it was more or less like a political party meeting, where everyone would be there but none would or rather could hear or understand anything, leave alone clear our doubts! There were many more like me in the group who wanted to do something concrete but felt helpless due to lack of knowledge or anyone to help us.
It was 1st Wednesday of the month that we were called for a meeting at Health Sub-Centre. It was informed by ANM didi (The only one we could turn towards help, but we saw her only once a month) that it would start at about 1 pm but since it was ‘too’ far from my home; I was double-minded and reached late at the venue. There I saw a team of young people who were trying to ‘enact’ how we ‘interact’ with pregnant women and mothers during our meetings with them. I got hooked! The team was from CARE and they were actually going to train us on how to ‘talk to beneficiaries’ coming right to the village.
It has been 4 months now after that first meeting and I have grown into a confident woman from that demure bride who could never even think about talking to her village people about ‘Family Planning’. Initially I had a lot of problems too. My work area included two extremes; one Musahar community (low castes) and Bhumihaar (upper caste) which made it very peculiar for me to work there. Although I didn’t believe much in caste system, the acceptance among the people there for me was very low. I decided to take up the challenge and started identifying the children who needed me the most.
As per growth monitoring charts, we decided to adopt few houses for ongoing counseling sessions. My visits to Musahar community were more than others since I realized that they needed my counseling more. This is where I met Laxmi and her 9 month old Rajesh. Rajesh when weighed came in ‘red line’. It was explained by the AWW that if he was not taken care of, he would be dangerously malnourished. This child as complained by his mother would not take anything other than her own milk. After getting the same reply from her in two visits; I asked her to bring whatever food was available at home. Reluctantly she brought out some cooked rice. I asked her to mix a little salt in it and started feeding the child. Lo and behold, the child started eating. Laxmi was ashamed of her laziness to feed her own child. Today the child is eating all kinds of vegetables, pulses and cereals and recovering well (as per last month’s weighing, he has come into yellow line category) and Laxmi is thankful to me.
Ravish, 2 month old was a feeble child who would never stop crying. The child caught my attention when his mother Archana had refused to get him immunized through ANM in-spite of repeated efforts. They were far too rich for that! I gathered all my courage to go to their house which was famous for its harsh language. After the initial hesitation, I was at ease with myself and started enquiring about breastfeeding practices from the mother. It was surprisingly scary that the child had been fed on bottle since the start. “We can afford bottle milk, that’s why we are feeding it!” is what I heard from the Mother-in-law, Sharda Devi. No wonder the child fell ill every 15 days and would never stop crying. Through the picture pamphlets I explained to the mother some ‘easy way’ of breastfeeding the child (I sensed the unwillingness to breastfeed was a reason here). Few signs of proper latching and suckling during breastfeeding were also taught to Archana. The whole concept of breastfeeding was changed from ‘free diet’ to ‘healthy diet’ for the richer class. This simple change in conversation style brought about a behaviour change and helped a mother to breastfeed her child again.Today I feel the caste doesn’t define anyone’s development, only knowledge does! The continuous weekly follow up by CARE team has made us so efficient that we speak about anything related to mother and child confidently. Our visits to the field have made us gain respect in the communities. On one of the field visits when I heard “Apni ke hamni ke zindagi ke asal main Asha ho gayal baani” (you have actually become ASHA of our lives) from one of the villagers, my heart swelled with pride. I realize that there is still a very long way to go, but here I have made a start!