Meet the Arogya Sakhis of Washim!

By Nandita Kaza, Volunteer, Armman

A classroom of sari-clad women expertly answering questions about the signs of neonatal jaundice was definitely a rare sight for the district of Washim, Maharashtra. While the training was being conducted in the district capital, many of these women had traveled between fifteen and twenty kilometres that very morning from their villages in the countryside to congregate here for one of their days of training as Arogya Sakhis (health entrepreneurs).  83 Arogya Sakhis are currently being trained across three districts of Maharashtra for the DFID mMitra Arogya Sakhi Home Based Care project and in 3 years 250 Arogya Sakhis will be created across Washim, Solapur and Osmanabad districts of Maharashtra.

The gynecology modules had been taught, and training which had reached the last 2 pediatric modules, was being conducted by Kiran and Dr. Manisha, working for Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which is ARMMANS’s community partner in rural Maharashtra.  ARMMAN’s Project Officers had conducted a Training of Trainers program which was attended by  SSP’s team. This was to train our community partners ARMMAN’s Project Officers had conducted training in the other districts of intervention- Osmanabad and Solapur and had conducted the previous week’s training in Washim.

A question was posed to the group regarding the material taught the day before.  Dressed neatly in a maroon and gold printed sari,  one of the women, Lalita stood up confidently to write out the formula  for calculating whether an infant or neonate’s weight loss was indicative of the onset of jaundice.  I watched in awe as this woman who had only studied up to the 7th standard  and had never had any form of health training, was not only able to accurately remember a complicated formula she had just learned yesterday but also use her mobile phone to calculate the percentage of weight loss for the infant in question.

It delighted me to see the other women also taking out their mobile phones and eagerly attempting the same calculation, patiently helping the others around them who were perhaps struggling to do the same.The training continued in this manner over  next few hours, and I continued to be surprised along the way. This group of women, who  had all traveled so far in the early hours of the morning (probably leaving several small children and many household duties  behind) was so  intent on learning not just in a way which was thorough but also one which was filled with passion, an emotion which was hard to come across in many classrooms I had myself sat in.

Arogya  Sakhi Picture

This passion stemmed principally from the women’s desire to learn and train to become fully fledged health workers who could conduct blood sugar tests, use fetal dopplers correctly and measure hemoglobin values.  They moreover, use these skills and this knowledge for the benefit of the uneducated women in their local village.  They seemed to be truly conscious and appreciative of the opportunity they were being given to train in the health profession and commence the journey towards being able to earn a livelihood for themselves and sustain their families. The ambience in the classroom was only further enriched by the joyous nature of the women, as they often decided to sing a song or engage in a dance native to their local area as a short break between the different modules they were being taught.

The correct way in which to fill a custom made antenatal and postnatal card, the preferred course of treatment for diarrhea, advice on counseling women on family planning and different methods of growth monitoring took up the rest of the training for the afternoon.  I was amazed to see how capable and apt these women were at learning new concepts and medical terms in a foreign language which could only have sounded alien to them, with one woman explaining the signs of a Cephalhematoma and another accurately remembering the full form of the obstetric acronym of GPLA (Gravida, Para, Living, Abortion).

The women seemed  incredibly satisfied with the time they had spent in the training sessions, pointing out that the fact that the modules had been translated to their local dialects and were delivered using images and interactive games, making the entire experience more enjoyable. The entire day’s session was being conducted in Marathi  and while I was only able to comprehend the bare minimum  of the conversation, both the unwavering focus with which these women were learning the material and their heartfelt dedication to the cause, was enough to cross any language barrier between ourselves and convey at once, the sincerity, simplicity, and evident success of the Arogya Sakhi Home Based Care project.

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