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“I’ve Made An Identity Of My Own”: What Does Being A Frontline Worker Feel Like?

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This interview was conducted as a part of a research study funded by Azim Premji University under the COVID-19 Research Funding Programme 2020. The study delves into the experiences of frontline workers in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was conducted with an Anganwadi Worker in Jaipur, Rajasthan, on 8 January, 2021 in Hindi and has been translated.

Q: During the past 9 months, you have been involved with COVID related work. Can you give a brief overview of what your COVID-19 pandemic and non-pandemic duties were?

Anganwadi Worker (AW): I was allotted my village for COVID-related work, so I never had any extra work to begin with. My biggest responsibility was to conduct surveys of people. I had to go door to door, especially to the people who had just entered the village and check for any symptoms, give them guidelines and make them understand the protocols of isolation.

I had to continue my responsibility of teaching children, but because we couldn’t gather them all at the centre, I would go to their homes and teach them there. Even my other duties like performing immunisations, giving Take Home Rations (THRs) were all done door-to-door. 

Although this was not my work, I also helped people in acquiring foodgrains. The Khadi Suraksha Yojna ensured access to wheat for all, but no one in my village knew this. So I would help them get access to this by submitting the required documents like BPO, Aadhar Card and Ration Card.

Lastly, one of my major responsibilities was to keep sending in reports. These were on — birth/death, COVID-19 related numbers, THRs, immunisations and weights of pregnant women and malnourished children. 

Q: What was your relationship with other Frontline Workers (ANMs, AWWs and ASHAs)/other Corona Warriors in your area post the pandemic? For instance, how often do you speak with each other and what coordination have you been doing?

AW: I think coordination among the Frontline Workers (FLWs) was a part of the pandemic task force, but I wasn’t a part of it, so I don’t know much about this. The coordination was much higher among them because they had more villages under them, but I was just in charge of my own. 

The only coordination that I can remember is that with ASHAs who helped us with conducting vaccinations. Because we had to vaccinate many children, we divided them into groups of five so that the vaccination camp did not see chaos. ASHAs would help in organising this. 

For the children who were unable to come to the camps, ASHAs would also help go from door to door to conduct the vaccinations.

Representative Image.

Q: Did you receive any support from your immediate supervisor to carry out these activities?

AW: There wasn’t any help from the supervisor. They used to say that “it is your own village, you know how to handle it”. They were swamped with work because they had to take care of the pandemic task force, get reports from everyone and keep asking for updates. So, this is also why they were not as involved on the field with me. 

Regardless of this, they were supportive. They would ask me to send reports via WhatsApp, and even though I never delayed sending them the reports, they assured me that it would not be an issue if there were a delay. 

They would also keep monthly meetings with the panchayat, patwari, Medical Officer and all the FLWs to coordinate any work. These meetings were mostly used as refresher sessions for the protocols that we were supposed to follow during our visits to people’s houses. 

Q: What has motivated you to come to work and carry out your activities during the pandemic? 

AW: My motivation is that this job is my only source of income, so I have no choice but to perform it as my religious duty. Although, during the pandemic, this motivation has changed quite a bit because of how much people have started to appreciate me and my work. People applaud me, they give me blessings, so these blessings have kept me going more than any salary or incentive.

The good thing about being an FLW is that it also gives you a chance to make your own name. After getting married, women are known only in relation to their husbands, but I got to make an identity of my own because of this job.

More experiences can be found on the dedicated Inside Districts platform.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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