Relu Vasave, an anganwadi worker, has been diligently performing her duty of providing healthcare during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travelling every day by boat to cross the Narmada river, she has been providing medical check-ups and food to groups of tribals who have not been able to visit the anganwadi since the pandemic.
The 27-year-old works in an anganwadi situated in a remote tribal village of Chimalkhadi in the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra. Her job focuses on the health of expecting mothers, newborns, and children under the age of 6 years.
Relu Vasave has been visiting two remote areas in her village to provide healthcare to tribals
Tribal groups settled in two hamlets – Aligat and Dadar – across the backwaters of the Narmada river would normally be able to access the healthcare centre by boat, but the pandemic put it all on hold. This prompted Relu to go to them instead. She told The Times of India, “Usually, the children and pregnant women visit our centre by boat with their families to collect food. But they have stopped visiting out of the fear of the virus.”
Relu has been, since April, visiting the hamlets five days a week to check on the groups settled there. Since there is poor access to the area, the only way to get there is by crossing the Narmada river – she has been borrowing a boat from the local fishermen and rowing 18km back and forth to ensure they receive adequate healthcare. The hamlets had 25 newborn and malnourished children, and 7 pregnant women in need of healthcare.
“It is not easy to row every day. My hands ache by the time I’m back home in the evening. But that doesn’t worry me,” says Relu. “It’s important that the babies and the expecting mothers eat nutritious food. I will visit these hamlets till things improve on the COVID front,” she states.
Relu splits her day between her time at the anganwadi and the hamlets. Starting at 7:30 am, she spends the first half of the day in the anganwadi. Then, after her lunch break, she sets off to the hamlets by boat and returns in the evening. While most times she goes alone, her relative, Sangita, also an anganwadi worker, accompanies her sometimes. Relu has to trek up a hilly terrain to get to the hamlets.
Relu’s efforts have been appreciated not just by the tribals residing in the hamlets, who are “dependent on her ” for the well-being of their children, but also by Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackrey’s office. Soon after hearing of her valiant efforts, Shekhar Raundal, additional chief executive officer of the Nandurbar Zilla Parishad, travelled to her village to convey the CM’s praise.
Women’s paid and unpaid contribution to the economy must be taken seriously
Anganwadi workers are the backbone of the country’s healthcare system, and their fight for recognition and rights has not been an easy one. Relu’s story is just one of many stories of these women who – as representatives of the government – take up the grunt work and go from house to house, street to street and village to village to ensure that healthcare reaches everyone.
ASHA workers have been in the spotlight recently for many reasons – fighting for wages, fighting for proper protective gear to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, and indirectly in the controversial Code on Wages Bill that considers their work as voluntary. ASHA workers, as part of their jobs, reach places where doctors cannot, and they must be recognised for it. Relu’s work is commendable, no doubt, but this only indicates the importance of legitimising their work and providing them with all the necessary resources and recognition that keeps them out of the spotlight.
There needs to be a larger conversation around our recognition of women and care work. Until then, we must remember women like Relu who continue to show us the value of work that women in anganwadis perform every day.
You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.