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Reaching the unreached in Orissa
" Administering polio vaccine to an infant. "

It’s almost 7 a.m in the morning. Ms. Usharani Haldar, in the Anganwadi (childcare) centre, is busy preparing for the house-to-house visits on the 2nd day of the State polio mop-up campaign. She has to start early.

There are almost 100 houses to cover in her micro plan with her team mate, Community Volunteer Samarra Majhi.
There is a bit of tension in her voice as she admonishes Samarra for being late with the vaccine carrier. One can understand the reason for her irritation; she is thinking of the area she has to cover. She and Samarra have to cover a territory of 8 - 10 kilometres of wild terrain of the Malkangiri hills on foot. The hills have never been a constraint. It is the ice packs carrying the vaccine that would not stay for long and their replenishments would come in late.

Yesterday, many mothers had not brought their children to the booth for the polio vaccination. Even today, many children and their mothers would not be found at their homes as they would be away on “dangar”, the local tribal word for going to the hills for farming activities. Usharani cannot afford to spend too much time thinking whom will she find or what would happen, she and Samarra start their trek.

Usharani is one of the brave and intrepid members of a gallant community of Anganwadi (childcare) workers, numbering more than a million in India.  The Anganwadi worker is the frontline childcare functionary who delivers and implements many of the services of the government’s and other agencies’ programmes at the village, community and family level. And being an Anganwadi worker in Malkangiri district of Orissa calls for a special commitment: one that is extraordinary in nature.

Malkangiri is the southernmost district of Orissa spread over 5,791 sq. km. with a population of 51 million, comprising mostly of tribal and marginalized communities. Made up of seven blocks, this district is home to many of the primitive indigenous tribes like the Bonda, Koyas, Paraja, and Didayee and several others.

Malkangiri is the most backward district of Orissa with extremely poor infrastructure and low social indicators.  52% of the district is covered with forests. It is home to a number of dams and irrigation projects. The Anganwadi worker has to traverse difficult terrain to reach the children.

Crossing rivers on foot, wading through waist and chest high waters, taking diversions of 6 – 10 kms to reach a place half a kilometre away, climbing hills to reach the communities on the top, travelling 6 hours by boat to reach a remote settlement on the other side of a reservoir, are some of the typical challenges that people like Usharani face in their everyday lives. And then ensuring that all the children in the marginalised community have their doses of polio vaccine, and that there are no X houses, is the real challenge.

Mobile teams, are out in the field sometimes for 3 to 4 days continuously. The areas are malaria endemic and food and transport is always a big question mark.

Usharani reaches a house where there is a 2 day old infant and promptly immunizes the child with polio drops and puts in some words of advice in the young mothers’ ears. There is a glow of happiness in the mother’s eyes. Usharani calls out to Samarra and they move on to the next house.

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