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‘I Know That My Work, My Profession, Are Important To This Country”

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

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 ASHA worker in Solan, Himachal Pradesh on 5 January 2021 in Hindi, and has been translated.

Sanitization Drive To Curb The Spread Of Coronavirus COVID-19
NEW DELHI, INDIA – APRIL 15: Asha workers seen checking the temperature of the residents living inside Coronavirusaffected areas as a precautionary measure at Jahangirpuri on April 15, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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

ASHA: The nature of my work has changed quite a bit. From March-May 2020, I was only engaged in pandemic-related work because my other responsibilities like immunisations, taking care of pregnant women, and prescribing medication to children were all reduced to only emergency cases.

In this period, my primary work was to go door-to-door, take samples, and check for any active cases of COVID-19. I was also spreading awareness about the virus and educating people on social distancing, and the usage of masks, and sanitisers.

However, after May 2020, when the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, my workload increased a lot because I had to resume immunisation and other duties like taking weights of pregnant women and children. I had to do this for all the 13 villages that were assigned to me.

Due to the apprehensions about the virus, people were sceptical to come to the Primary Health Centres for normal check-ups. So, they would call me and ask me to deliver the medicines to their homes. This increased my work because I had to keep travelling all the time.

During this entire period, the scope of my work also drastically changed. Earlier, I would only cater to women (especially pregnant women) and children. At most I would see elderly patients, but now all the people in a household are my responsibility, and they all feel comfortable in consulting me for any health-related issues.

Q: What was your relationship with other Frontline Workers (Auxiliary Nurse Midwives or ANMs, other Anganwadi Workers or AWWs, and ASHAs) or other Corona Warriors in your area post the pandemic? For instance, how did you coordinate with each other?

ASHA: There was coordination, there still is. However, my coordination was limited to my fellow ASHA workers, and ANMs. I only coordinated with AWWs during the Active Case Finding (ACF) phase, which started in February 2020.

But ANMs and we (ASHAs) were like one single team. My day would start with talking to them about the tasks, and how we should divide the work in a way that everything could be covered.

We were mostly going door-to-door, so whenever ANMs would get done with their tasks, they would accompany us and help us out.

Whenever I would face problems in the family, or if I had to go take care of my children, I would inform my ANM didi and she would fill in for me.

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

ASHA: My motivation has changed a lot in 2020. I was never interested in the field of medicine and health. I was working at Akashvaani before. But I had to change my job when I got married.

My only motivation before the pandemic was that this was the job that was giving me some money and helping me manage my house finances. However, the past 9-10 months have changed it all. People have started to salute me, they appreciate me, and they call me ‘Corona Warrior’. All of this makes me feel that I am capable of doing something important, and I like that feeling; it drives me to work more and work better.

Earlier, nobody knew who I am and what I do. Now, wherever I go everyone knows me, everyone knows my work, and everyone appreciates it. People also listen to me. All the villages assigned to me have been very cooperative and they patiently obey the rules because they trust me and my expertise. This is a great feeling, and has always motivated me!

I also received a lot of certificates for my work during COVID-19. I got one from my society; one from the Panchayat, and one from the hospital as well. But apart from this, monetary incentives were also a motivation driver. I know that a lot of frontline workers didn’t get the money on time, but everyone in my team did, and that encouraged us to work more.

Asha Workers Collect Information Of People With Recent Travel History In View Of The Spread Of Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic
NEW DELHI, INDIA – APRIL 6: Asha workers along with Delhi Civil Defence volunteers collect information of people with recent travel history as a precautionary measure on day thirteen of the 21-day nationwide lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus, at Mayur Vihar on April 6, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Q: Have you faced challenges in carrying out your work?

ASHA: One of the biggest challenges was to manage the sudden increase of workload.

I have 13 villages under me, and I don’t have a transport facility, so I have to either walk or take the bus to go to the Primary Health Centre (PHC). I never received any reimbursement for the money I spent to take buses, or to hire any vehicles to travel, which is why I often just walked.

Moreover, this work also requires a lot of spontaneity, which I wasn’t ready for. I would get calls out of nowhere to come and do check-ups, which was very tough to manage because I also had to manage my family and housework.

Another challenge was that sometimes people would not allow us to enter their homes. This one time a lot of people from Delhi arrived in the village, and we were given strict instructions to quarantine them in a government institution. When we went to them for this, they lashed out at us and refused to cooperate. My supervisors were very helpful during this time because they called the police and asked them to take over the matter.

Managing the family was also a huge challenge. Because of my pandemic-related work, I was not able to give time to my kids at all and it frustrated my in-laws as well as my husband. They were also not supportive of me working long hours at the PHC.

Lastly, these days a huge problem is also with vaccines. People feel hesitant to even get checked because they feel that if they test positive, I will give them the vaccine and they are wary because there isn’t enough evidence about its efficacy. I have been trying to tell them that their health will never be compromised, but they are still very scared.

Q. How did you overcome the challenges that you faced?

ASHA: To cope with the spontaneity of this job, I started waking up early to do my household chores. I also tried to explain to my family the importance of this work.

In terms of challenges related to the workload, I would just remind myself of the larger context in which I am working.

In the beginning, I was very shy — we’re all women, and for us to suddenly have to go to random houses to do fieldwork was a huge deal. We found it to be so difficult, but I would remind myself of my duty towards the country. Look at me now, you can ask me to go anywhere, anytime, and I will go without any hesitation because I know that my work, my profession is important to this country.

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

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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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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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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.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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