Meet Indira Garg fondly known as Indira Didi from Rajasthan, she is an anganwadi worker at Tarpal village located around 53 km from Udaipur. Today, Indira Didi is also known as the fearless lady of her village, who is braving all odds amidst the pandemic to fight for the health of everyone in the village.
Before coronavirus pandemic, a day in the life of Indira Didi looked like this - Every morning she used to get up at the crack of dawn, complete her household chores and then finally head to the village Anganwadi centre, which she only would open up every day around 7am. After that, Indira didi would take care of the children coming in to the centre by giving them anganwadi meals, teaching them about good practices they should be following like washing hands, maintaining good sanitation hygiene, among others.
She also used to provide healthcare support to a lot of expecting mothers by educating them about breastfeeding practices and their usual health check-ups as a part of Antenatal care. Sometimes, Indira didi along with other anganwadi workers used to head out for door-to-door surveys in her village, to educate people about necessary precautions in terms of health and provide support services like weight monitoring of children, take home ration (THR) distribution, contraceptive distribution to name a few things.
Sharing how much it means to be an anganwadi worker at her village, Indira Didi says, 'I love working as an anganwadi worker, as it allows me to serve my community people. Today, I am proudly called an anganwadi didi, this job has given me a certain status in the community - both financially and mentally. Joining this service has made me more independent and has empowered me.'
But arrival of coronavirus halted Indira didi's life in many ways as due to the nationwide lockdown, all the anganwadi centres had to be closed for the initial few months. Indira Garg was left worrying for the little children who used to come to the centre every day for food and learning, for the pregnant and lactating women who came every week to get their Take Home Ration (THR), their ANC (Antenatal care) check-ups, and more. She knew how important the anganwadi centre was for the health of her village people.
Coronavirus scare continued to spread and the situation worsened. While Indira was worried about the coronavirus situation and how she is not being able to serve her community people, her husband lost his job due to the lockdown. Her woes mounted with each passing day."It was a very difficult time for me and my family. We have two little children and have no extended family to support. I couldn't sleep well, there was a constant fear of how will we sustain our family and concern for each and every villager for whom the Anganwadi services are very crucial."
After grappling for a few days, anganwadi workers were asked to join the war against COVID-19 and reach out to the remotest parts of their villages to tackle the pandemic. Though Indira Didi was happy to join back work, her family opposed the idea of her leaving the children and going out in the open when the virus was spreading faster than before. Indira's husband also asked her to leave the job. But leaving the job she loved was not an option for her.
From then on everyday was spent by Indira to try and convince her husband to let her go and work as an anganwadi worker and after days of persuasion and convincing, her husband allowed her to resume work on the assurance of being extra cautious and ensuring that all precautionary measures for COVID will be adhered to strictly by Indira. She adds, 'I have realised my work is even more important at these difficult times as I need to go out and distribute home rations to the beneficiaries. Just like we were struggling, there were many out there who might be suffering even more. Because of the pandemic, services had been disturbed and people of the village were not getting access to good nutritious food. I was the only way for them to access nutrition.'
As soon as Indira got back to work in the anganwadi, she had to start visiting houses of the villagers for door-to-door surveys, educating villagers about coronavirus and its health implications, distributing rations to the beneficiaries and monitoring weight of children. It was then that she realised that due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting scare, people were scared to let in an anganwadi worker into their homes. Community members feared the virus and thought letting Indira into the house will mean risking exposure to the virus. Indira describes that phase frustrating,'We were once called anganwadi didis, children and people loved coming to us, they used to let us take care of them. But now it was all very different. It was definitely frustrating, but I didn't let the negativity hamper my spirit. I decided to keep fighting the situation and keep convincing people to let me come to their house.'
To convince community members, Indira along with another ASHA worker of the village, went all out to create awareness about the coronavirus and the safety measures villagers need to take to stay safe from the virus. The duo also started counselling people. They tried to talk to people on various issues related to health, nutrition, and COVID-19. The aim was to gain back the goodwill and trust to help people out, once again.
When community members witnessed this level of commitment and dedication of the anganwadi didis to spread awareness and support the community in the pandemic, the trust was regained slowly and people opened up the doors of their homes to welcome back their Indira Didi.
Today, in the time of coronavirus, Indira didi leaves her house every morning at 7am but follows few thumb rules - she wears mask every time she heads out of home. Not just mask, she carries a sanitiser with her at all times and maintain a good hand hygiene. Moreover, since the work requires a lot of writing notes, so Indira tries to use a new pen every day. After a hard day's work when she returns home, she first takes a bath and only then she goes close to her children to caress them. It is not just the anganwadi workers who wear a mask now, because they have been briefed about the pandemic, each villager of Trapal wears one now. Indira Didi says, 'I am happy that anganwadi workers have regained the villagers' trust and I am thankful to my family who allowed me to do what I love the most.'