Written by Vishal Khinvsara
Edited by Anshla Benny
As I come from a corporate background, there were many new things I learned in this short stint of 8 weeks working with an NGO, an opportunity given to me by the World of Difference programme by Vodafone. I was assigned to work with ARMMAN, which worked in the mobile health sector something which had me intrigued from the beginning. While working with ARMMAN, I had witnessed a lot of activities in the office but my desire was to visit the field and see the work done by ARMMAN in the rural areas. Fortunately, I got an opportunity to be a part of the Arogya Sakhi Home Based Care Project. The Arogya Sakhi Home Based Care project is focused on reducing maternal and infant morbidity and mortality by creating health awareness among rural women through various health services and generating women health entrepreneurs. The newly created Infancy Care Mobile App was a step taken towards making the goal of healthy mothers and infants a reality. As I hail from a technical background, I took this mobile app training as an additional experience to add to my learning and memories.
My journey began from Mumbai to Akola on 8th March 2015 and from there we set on an exciting ride on a rickety ST bus to Washim. I went along with the team of young and vibrant Project officers from ARMMAN, Anshla Benny and Nivedita Patil who guided me all along the way as I had never been to the field before. Our first mobile app training was at Washim, where we headed for our meeting at a place called Lakhada and we met 16 Arogya Sakhis ready for training. The Arogya Sakhi Home based Infancy Care app monitors the health of the infant and the highlights Danger signs if any which our Arogya Sakhi can communicate to the mother so that the baby is referred to the doctor at the earliest. Also the information is sent directly to the backend system which helps us monitor the growth and the overall health of the infant up to the age of one year.
I was quite amazed when I saw smart phones used by these Arogya Sakhis, which changed my outlook towards them. I knew the mobile technology was advanced in urban areas, but a quick trend was also seen picking up in the rural areas, considering fact that mobiles are one of the basic necessities and shockingly enough India has more Mobile phones than toilets. We began with getting the Arogya Sakhis mobile internet 2G data connection on their phones. The three of us then started downloading the Arogya Sakhi Home based Infancy Care App on the Arogya Sakhis phones after transferring it via Bluetooth. However not everything went along smoothly, we had to face a lot of challenges like that of weak network coverage, some names of beneficiaries not showing on the list, a few names were getting deleted from the list etc. After a lot of trouble shooting, we managed to run the app on their phones. We started our training, of how the app works & how to feed the data in. All the Arogya Sakhis, were very excited and keen to learn this new app, the excitement was worth watching. We also taught them how to use their mobile data very effectively, as I know that the cost of misusing the inbuilt apps will lead to deduction of their prepaid balance, I shared this information with them and taught them how to use their mobile data economically. The sun scorched at 35 degrees, and we were finally done with the training by late afternoon. We packed our bags and went back and after a very late lunch discussed the problems we faced during the training and built a strategy for the next training session which was scheduled at Osmanabad. In the evening around 7pm just when we were preparing to leave for the station to catch our train to Osmanabad, it began pouring heavily. None of us were prepared for the rains and our only option was to get drenched and go and wait at the station where the power had gone out which made it look like a haunted place. The project officers told me that such unexpected keep occurring during field work and that is what makes working on the field doubly exciting. The train arrived late and we ran the length of the platform figuring out our compartment as there were the indicators were not working. Finally we sat in the train and in a while fell asleep with the thoughts of reaching Osmanabad the next day.
At Osmanabad, we had 33 Sakhis with same smart phones. What I figured out was Idea had strong network presence in rural India, followed by Vodafone & Airtel. With a completely new strategy coupled with a broad smile and renewed energy we came to train them. I was happy with the way they responded to me and it was very helpful they were ready to listen & follow. As the numbers were huge we divided the Arogya Sakhis in groups of 10 each. I downloaded the apps immediately & back to back started installing it in one go. While the Field supervisor called a mobile phone recharge person it was quick for us to get the mobile internet data connection started. I initiated some team building & fun games in order to keep their spirits high. Learning from Washim, we had devised a new strategy and we managed to download the apps in quick manner. The tech related issues were also sorted more quickly.
Our last and final location for the training was Solapur. The training room was a simple but nicely ventilated bungalow which helped the cool breeze pass through making us all very comfortable. Here the Arogya Sakhis were very punctual and there was a thirst to learn in everyone eyes. These Arogya Sakhis were more organized and so were their field Supervisors, Vaishali & Shamaltai. We all sat in circle we started downloading the apps on their mobiles. Majority of the users were on Idea Network, followed by Vodafone & then Airtel. With good network & strong support from everyone, we managed to start off with training. I felt like a teacher who was teaching a class full of eager students. During our training I also noticed that all the Arogya Sakhis were following our instructions & were in sync with each other. They not only helped the ones who were left behind but also ensured they cope up with us. These values of team work and cooperation are crucial in the corporate world and are incorporated through trainings and workshops but it is commendable that the Arogya Sakhis had these values inherently. After the training we played some fun filled energizing games to entertain the Arogya Sakhis. With this, the mobile App training was over but I had learnt so much during this trip about the rural realities that I had been cut off from so long that I have begun to appreciate the smaller things in life.
With field exposure I have added memories for a life time. I am very grateful to my mentor Ms. Geetanjali for allowing me to visit & feel the ground reality. I extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Sandhya Joshi, for making me a part of this Arogya Sakhi Home Based Care project. I also want to specially thank Anshla & Nivedita who not only guided me and cleared my doubts regarding the project but also took good care of me knowing my huge appetite both for food and learning. J
With this I have realized that living in an urban setting and working in a corporate world has trapped in our cozy Ivory towers not willing to look out, but outside in the rural areas life is very different & one has to have an open mind ready to soak in whatever is being thrown at you. This visit has not only enlightened me but has ensured that I have a lifetime of memories of the Arogya Sakhis whose only mantra is being happy despite their simple means.
This programme has really made a “World of Difference “in my life & I am glad I got to be a part of the Armman team for this experience.