The Health Navigator way of life
I joined MAYA Health almost a year ago, in my capacity as a writer and blogger (albeit amateur) and in all that time, I had gotten to know quite well, the work that goes on here in MAYA- a not-for-profit organization that is attempting to improve health situations in certain red alert areas in Karnataka.
So, having worked for there for quite a while now , writing and editing articles and little blurbs for online newsletters and magazines, I had had ample oppurtunity to read and write about MAYA’s Health Navigators- a group of about 15-20 strong-willed, intelligent women who work day in and day out , everyday in the villages and small towns in the Chennapatna district of Karnataka to improve the health conditions of the people who live there.
So, last tuesday when I had a bit of free time, I thought it only fit that I dedicate that day to visiting these HN’s, as they’re called and find out how they work.
It soon became clear that I had bitten off more than I could chew.
Getting off a bumpy half hour bus ride to Chennapatna bus station, I alighted on a dusty and noisy platform, feeling dusty and distinctly ruffled because of the heat and the noise only to be immediately greeted by two grinning, smartly-attired women- who could only be the Health Navigators. As I got to know them better, I unconsciously started to relax and have fun, getting to know Jyothi and Nirupama who were both really nice, always-smiling sort of people that instantly make one feel at ease.
In 10 minutes we’d reached the MAYA office, which is a quaint little red-brick building, filled with chattering, giggling women that don’t seem like they were doing back-breaking, difficult but necessary community work everyday.. but they did and they are.
Words cannot express how much respect and affection I learned to have for these women in my short time getting to know them. They are people who mostly haven’t been educated beyond 10th standard, who, in the everyday, scorching heat of the sun, spend hours going to people’s houses and talking to them about pertinent health preventions that can be taken, some noticeable symptoms that help identify problems and even some important social issues that need talking about.
These women have had the wonderful opportunity to meet some doctors who have provided them with vital know-how regarding basic first aid and machine care. They have also had various communication workshops that focused on improving their communication skills so that they are better equipped to deal with villagers, most of whom are illiterate and very distrusting of outside involvement, especially where there’s health and money involved.
And it shows. All these workshops and meetings with doctors and extra help these women have been given have very visibly helped these women because, as I noticed, they are very confident, interesting women that want to help and so have been armed to be able to do just that.
Lookng back now, almost a week later, loads of little things stand out for me- yes, it was very hot that day and I cannot ever remember perspiring as much as I did that day;yes, the bus journey was ardous and long and I needed a whole day to recover from that; but I also remember these small-town women that braved horrible conditions in order to help communities by spreading information about diabetes and malnutrition and other such ailments; I remember laughing with these women as they told me about silly things that they remember seeing the villagers do in their daily walks.
This journey was very obviously not easy for these women. As loads of very socialy-regressive ideas still dominate the rural indian society, these women obviously had trouble convincing their families to let them work. They probably faced a lot of opposition otherwise also because most of them are not professionally- trained and most don’t even have high school diplomas. They face trouble every day because most villagers don’t want to spend money on health care and prevention and most won’t even entertain the idea of daily check- ups and hospital treatments.
Despite that though, Jyothi and Shahida and Neema and so many others, get up everyday and armed only with their black bags and a smile traverse the streets of Chennapatna, quietly helping people…quietly doing what they can to improve health situations for poor people…
Quietly being heroes.
Journalism Student –Christ University- Bangalore
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