What We Are Doing

A walk with an angel: A health worker's story 14 Aug 2014

Sangeeta Kumari was one of an army of community health workers across India trained by Save the Children. Though she no longer works with Save the Children, she contributed immensely to improving health seeking behavior of community she worked with.

She became an inspiration to noted photographer Raghu Rai who likened Sangeeta’s work to that of what he saw from close quarters in Mother Teresa’s work.

He said, “There are community healthworkers like Sangeeta who are working tirelessly and giving people like us hope and optimism. We surely need an army of them to change the face of reality.

I kept meeting her through the course of my visit to the slums and became a living inspiration for me too.

 Excerpts from an interview with Sangeeta

From her home in Sanjay Colony, outside Delhi, she offered advice to her neighbours – particularly women – about health and hygiene.

Sangeeta Kumari served as a community health volunteer in Sanjay Colony, on the outskirts of Delhi, where 11,000 people live.

Part of her work was to educate mothers about their health and how to keep their children healthy.

She started her day at 9:00 am and went on rounds of 40-50 homes a day to make sure mothers and babies are taking right care and caution when they need the most.

Smile never fades

Save the Children caught up with Sangeeta on a visit to the project site. Sangeeta has struck a chord with the community. Despite challenges, that smile on her face would never fade.

About 20% of deaths of children under the age of five around the world occur in India – that’s 1.4 million children each year.

When asked what is the most important thing, according to her,  it is to address the problem from her experience of working with the community.

Living next to a waste site

Sanjay Colony is next to a waste site that is also a communal toilet and children’s playground. Many children here suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting.

“It really bothers me that people aren’t aware of basic health and hygiene,” says Kumari. “There are widespread cases of vomiting and diarrhoea”

Raising awareness of health and hygiene is the key to increasing children’s chances of survival, says Kumari. “If people around here don’t get the right kind of information about healthcare, these illnesses will spread. It’s simple things like boiling water before giving it to the children,” she says.

Absence of healthcare

Adding to the problem is the fact that Sanjay colony has no health clinic or trained doctors.

“There are very few hospitals around here and those around are private. There are quacks (untrained doctors) but no qualified doctors in the community and if people go outside the community it costs them a lot of money.

Because of that they can’t get proper treatment for them or their children. And for pregnant women the distance is a factor, they can’t go. These are the health issues we face here,” Sangeeta said.

Save the Children supports a mobile health clinic that visits communities once a week. “I inform the community before the mobile clinic comes so that people who are sick can get treated,” Kumari said.

 In India, fewer than half of all children are vaccinated against illnesses like measles, diptheria and polio. Health workers like Kumari encourage mothers to take their children to be vaccinated

Community health workers make a huge difference in reducing child deaths, says Kumari. “On one of my visits a mother told me her child was seriously ill.

I told her, you’ve been going to the traditional doctor and spending money, so at least come to the clinic for free treatment”

Spreading smiles, saving lives

We asked her “Do you like your work?”

“It’s really great to give people information that leads them on the right path. They are going to the mobile clinic for treatment, they’re getting their kids proper treatment. It’s no longer the lack of money that’s stopping them.”

“It gives me immense happiness when people come and tell me the kids have this and that problem, they come and ask me about children’s health, they ask me what to do and what not to do.

It’s because I know and that’s the reason they come to me. It gives me great happiness that they come to me and ask me things and I’m able to give them the right information. I’m pleased that slowly people are becoming more aware than before.”

It is not an easy trail, so what

 Things are changing but not fast enough to nail the problem. Sangeeta tells us about an incident that continues to haunt her.

“About a sixth months ago there was a pregnant woman and we took her to the hospital for a check-up and around that time she left for her village, her mother’s house, and when she came back from there her whole body was swollen.

“No matter how badly I tried I couldn’t save her or the child inside her and that will haunt me for the rest of my life, that I was unable to save her. That’s a big sadness for me,” Sangeeta regrets.

“I feel very angry with myself and then with that person’s family, I get frustrated that because of their mistake all my hard work is undone. At the same time the sadness of losing a person because I’ll never be able to meet that person again is something that will stay with me.”

We know Sangeeta’s job is not easy, it takes a lot to change people’s mindset. It is a long journey but success no matter slow in coming, keep her motivated and committed to saving lives.

She remembers how her timely help saved the life of a child who was sick with acute pneumonia.

“The mother was getting the baby treated by a quack (untrained doctor). That afternoon our mobile clinic was coming around and I told the mother, ‘you should come and have your child checked. You’ve been going to other places and spending money so at least come to the clinic where you’ll get free treatment.’

 “She agreed after much convincing. The doctor at once looked at the child and referred the child to the hospital and told the mother if you want your child to survive you’d better go to the hospital right now. So the woman called her husband and the father came running and they took the baby to the hospital.”

“I feel happy and satisfied that I’ve succeeded in this case. That child is now safe and sound at his parent’s house. Because of me that child survives today. It gives me great happiness. It’s great to see him play, it really feels good,” Sangeeta smiles.

Everywhere children should be safe, there should be someone who can guide them so there are fewer children dying, and if they’re healthy only then will our future be brighter.

Act now

Save the Children is calling upon the Government to ensure that there is a health worker like Sangeeta within the reach of every mother and every child. With less than 500 days left to achieving the targets we must ensure a health worker within the reach of every mother and child.