New Delhi: “I am a mother of a 7-year-old and 14-months-old girls and I am an anganwadi worker. I know how important it is to provide medical care, nutrition to the expecting mothers and newborns. If babies are not given proper nutrition since their birth, in the long term it can hamper their health, it can make them malnourished, and no parent would like to see that,” says 27-year-old Relu Vasave. Before 2020, Relu didi, was known only in the northwest corner of Maharashtra’s smallest district, Nandurbar. Today, Relu Vasave is known across the country as a brave anganwadi worker, a coronavirus warrior, who during the pandemic would row 14 km daily to reach out to expecting mothers, newborns and make her village people aware about the COVID-19 crisis.
Talking to NDTV about her work, she added,
When COVID-19 pandemic struck, it changed the face of the entire world, our village and lives were no different. So, when the lockdown happened, I decided to go to different hamlets of my village via boat and provide them with their Take Home Ration (THR), ANC (Antenatal care) check-ups and teach village people about the disease and how they can take care of themselves – regular hand washing, how to wear a mask, meaning of social distancing – I guided them on everything.
Under normal circumstances, women visit the anganwadi centre for check-ups and claim their rations. But sometimes Relu’s job demands her to reach pregnant women and newborns to provide adequate care. Since the beginning of 2020, due to the pandemic, Relu has been rowing a boat everyday for 7 km each way that requires two hours of her time, to reach out to the villagers and has helped 138 women, children and provided them with support that they will value for their entire lifetime.
You know, if a child doesn’t get proper nutrition from the very beginning of his/her birth, he/she can get malnourished, where a child never reaches his/her full potential and his/her brain is not completely developed, which further affects the productivity and learning of the child going forward, added Relu, who has been working as an angandwadi worker since 2014.
She further said her work is very important for a healthier future of the country and that’s why she decided to brave all odds and reach out to people who needed her support. Relu added,
Coronavirus is an unique pandemic, till date, we don’t really know, what this is all about. Urban people, who have access to all services, feel this way. Imagine the condition of us villagers, who mostly don’t have the basic services. If I wasn’t ready to take these challenges in the COVID times, my villagers, especially the expecting mothers and newborns would not be able to get proper nutrition and support, which they need the most. Nobody was ready to step outside their houses as they all were scared of this virus.
Highlighting the precautions she took and how she guided the people of her area to combat the disease, Relu said,
I would tell them the basic things such as how they should wash their hands and if they step out, they make sure they are cleaning themselves properly by taking a bath and always wearing a mask. There is no medicine for the disease, good hygiene is basically our protection and that’s what I told them.
Explaining how she learned to row a boat by herself, Relu added,
Since childhood, I have travelled by boat to visit my relatives in neighboring villages, but never actually rowed one by myself. In 2016, some of the neighbouring villagers were unable to come and visit anganwadi centre and for their health, my job required me to go to them. To reach those villagers, the only way possible was to go via boat. I had to wait for fishermen for transport, sometimes, it delayed my work as well, because moving around depends on their availability. That made me approach one of my anganwadi colleague who knew how to row.
In two months time with regular lessons, Relu learned how to row a boat alone by herself. She added,
Water scares me a little, especially during monsoons when current and flow of the river is high. But, the love for my job and the joy of holding a healthy baby or delivering one, made me sail through my fears. Before 2020, I used to row a boat and reach out to villagers whenever required – not that frequently. But 2020 changed this routine, since everything got shut in the pandemic, even our anganwadi centre, I had to reach out to all the expecting women and children at their home and rowed almost daily to all the villages.
Relu’s extraordinary work has also been recognised by her senior officials and even the chief executive officer of the Zilla Parishad. Now the authorities are working together to arrange a motorboat for the anganwadi workers in the district that can reduce the travel time and physical effort.
Signing off, Relu added,
When you row a boat occasionally it is fine, but rowing everyday for 14 kilometres – it is tough. At the end of the day, when I return home, my hands hurt, but I can’t complain because this is what I chose. It’s important that babies and expecting mothers eat nutritious food and remain healthy. After coming home, no matter how tired I am, I have to cook dinner for my family. My husband is very helpful, while, I cook dinner, he plays with the kids. Sometimes, I even have to ferry my kids along to work, as nobody back home can take care of them.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.