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Teaming up to wipe out polio
" This is a different “bulawa toli” unlike many others as not only does it have young volunteers but also their teacher "

Teacher Devinder Singh stands with his students who form the "bulawaa toli" in the Shivalkhas area of Meerut district

Sushmita Malaviya

Meerut: At the primary health centre (PHC) in Shivalkhas in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, schoolboys from the “bulawa toli” (responsible for going door to door to remind parents to get their children immunized on “booth day”) who have been on their feet all morning, take a break.

This is a different “bulawa toli” unlike many others as not only does it have young volunteers but also their teacher – Devinder Singh.

Lean with a shock of white-hair, Singh believes in the right of children to be polio-free and is willing to walk an extra mile for their well-being.

His district Meerut is in the polio-endemic region of western Uttar Pradesh that has not had a single Type 1 polio case for the past 16 months – an unprecedented achievement.

Singh has been supporting the polio programme for as long as he can remember. However, for him the February 2008 round was different since in this round he tried out a new strategy.

Earlier, he would move with 60 children, but he noticed that such a large group was unmanageable and not as efficient.

“To be more focused, I have selected only 25 boys this time. We have been moving from booth to booth and much faster and better,” he says.

By noon they had covered seven booths and had six more to go – an excellent achievement.

His crew has come to school on a Sunday (since polio campaigns start usually on a Sunday).

Singh is all praise for them. “The children have been working very hard. The boys even carry children to booths to get them immunized, and many a time they find children who are not so clean. However, I have told them that they should not hesitate to bring such children, and they have been doing it,” says Singh.

The results the Singh’s “bulawa toli” has managed to achieve are acknowledged by ANM Mamta Gautam, volunteers Vinesh and Radha who are manning the polio booth.

“Only 10 children had come to the booth since the morning. After Masterji and his boys came we covered 160 children.”

The strain of a morning full of work shows in the boys’ faces but the boys are proud of their work.

Wahid says, “I bought 50 children to the booth.” Sohaib says he brought 45, and Arjun Singh says he brought 40 children to the booth.

Devinder Singh scribbles his observations in his notebook.

The boys have faced refusal by parents to immunize. Anurag and Senger smile when they say that they were thrown out by women who were refusing to send their children for vaccination.

However, they are armed with a strategy on how to deal with such situations. It is none else but Singh who has trained them.

As the boys glow with a sense of their mission, it is Singh’s commitment they have internalized and made it their own.

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