Stories from the field: Meet Tabassum
As I made my way to Channapatna, I glanced through my notes. I was on my way to interview someone and investigate a curious movement that is slowly gaining momentum in this town. Lost in thought, I got down at the wrong bus stop. So I ended up taking a 15 minute walk under the scorching mid-morning sun.
Vitamin D stores replenished, I made my way to the MOSS office and met Ramakka. Ramakka is a field coordinator here at MOSS (MAYA Organic Support Services). I ask her to tell me a little about my interviewee.
‘Tabassum has been with us for nearly four years. She is an excellent Health Navigator and she genuinely cares about people.’
I notice a group of women gathered outside the office. They are chatting animatedly with each other. These are the Health Navigators of Channapatna, trained by MOSS as a part of the MAYA Health initiative. They are micro-entrepreneurs who provide preventative health services door-to-door within their communities.
Ramakka explains, ‘They are here for a meeting. Tabassum will be here soon.’
In conversation with Tabassum
‘I’d like to interview you for a blog post.’
Tabassum looks mildly surprised and we start talking.
Tabassum hails from Mandya, a neighboring district. She confesses that she was a pampered child. ‘I was my father’s pet, I’d throw tantrums to get my way,’ she says with a nostalgic smile. She got married at the age of fifteen and had her first child at sixteen. She worked as a nurse helper until the local clinic shut down. While looking for her next job, she heard about MAYA’s health initiative from a friend. The timings were flexible and the role was interesting.
She recounts her first few experiences on the field.
‘I used to feel shy going door to door and talking to people. People didn’t understand what we were trying to do and they didn’t trust us. One lady threw water at me and told me to leave.’
The incident left her feeling embarrassed. Tabassum considered quitting but she spoke about it at the next meeting. The field coordinators and Health Navigators came up with solutions, such as working on their communication skills and dealing with frequently raised concerns.
Tabassum only had one client at the beginning, a 35-year-old diabetic man who had suffered a stroke.
‘He was an educated man but he didn’t know much about preventative healthcare. He used to smoke and drink a lot.’
His case is not unique. Most people in Channapatna were new to the idea of preventative healthcare at the time. Their health was only a cause for concern when they fell seriously ill.
Tabassum monitored his blood sugar levels and suggested lifestyle changes. Over time, they started to see improvements. Her client base quickly expanded to 30 people in the next few weeks. Tabassum currently works with 400 clients in her community.
‘How are things now?’
‘People respect me. My husband is proud of the work I do. My clients always invite me to family functions. They treat me like a family member and they share their problems with me.’
‘I used to have big dreams. I wanted to go out a lot, eat well and spend money. I was young then!’ she says laughing.
Things have changed now. Going on the field and interacting with others have opened her eyes to the suffering that many people go through.
‘I’m grateful for what I have.’
Tabassum’s hopes for the future evolved with her outlook towards life.
‘My eldest daughter wants to become a doctor. We’re doing everything we can to support her dream.’
Most of her earnings are saved for her children’s education and the rest is used for investing in new medical equipment and supplies. Tabassum shares a delightful monthly ritual that takes place at her home.
‘I set aside some of my income in a piggy bank for investments. It’s a clay pot. At the end of the month, the children and I drop the pot from a height so it breaks! It’s a lot of fun,’ she lifts her hands high and mimes dropping a pot. Both of us burst out laughing.
Tabassum is also completing her B.A. through distance learning. ‘I want my children to be able to say that their mother has a degree.’
Her dreams might have changed over time but they are no less ambitious. As we wrap up and I make my way to Bangalore, I feel a warm glow inside. Tabassum’s story is one of hope. The world’s problems may appear daunting and yet, there are those like Tabassum, who dream of a better world and do what’s in their power to make it a reality.
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