Daisy Rani Palaka, an Anganwadi worker of Laxmipur tehsil, Koraput district, speaks to Shakti Swarupa Pattanaik
Do you wish to know about my life as an Anganwadi worker? I am glad, but quite surprised. Nobody gives much attention to us, or our work. Just look at the building where I am supposed to work. Can anyone teach or feed small children here? The Anganwadi Centre has been standing in this dilapidated condition for seven years. (cover photo).
I have filed quite a few complaints with the Supervisor. The Block Development Officer and the Junior Engineer have conducted several visits. Some news channels have also reported on the condition of the Centre. The ward member of the Bhitaraguda gram panchayat, Sabita Bidiga, has all the information. And yet, no action has been taken to repair the building.
So I am forced to use an unfinished house of a relative. I teach the children there, but cannot keep chairs, tables, teaching-learning materials, bags of rice, or any other supplies from the government. As you can see, the place has no doors or windows (photo below).
I joined as an Anganwadi worker in Barigam village in 1987. My day starts at 8 am. I gather children between 3 and 6 years, and tell them stories, sing songs with little movements, till noon. After about 2 pm, I start home visits. I go from door to door, talking to mothers and their children, informing them about the weight of the children, whether proper vaccination has been given to the child, ante-natal and post-natal check-ups, and giving them vitamin tablets. I also talk with adolescent girls, telling them about menstrual hygiene and distributing sanitary napkins. My work usually gets over by 8 pm.
Earlier, people of Barigam villages refused to go to medical centres, and heavily depended on the Disaris (traditional doctors) of their village, Siba Miniaka and Patra Miniaka. They used religious rituals and gave indigenous herbal medicines even for serious conditions like breast cancer. I am happy that with continuous effort, I have been able to reduce the villagers’ dependence on such practices. Now many of them are going to the nearest community health center in Keskabadi.
The COVID pandemic was a tough time for me. People did not wash their hands, nor wore masks. They openly argued that consumption of liquor could cure Covid. You can imagine how difficult it was to convince the villagers to practice safety norms, or to get them vaccinated. Anganwadi workers like us kept buckets of water and soap in front of their homes, and told them that the government had made hand washing mandatory. I was diagnosed with typhoid and also as COVID positive. but couldn’t take proper care of myself because of my work load. My co-worker Kamalini Khara, who runs the only other Anganwadi Centre in this village, also had a tough time. Even when her husband and child were critically ill, she could not visit them, as she was exposed to COVID positive patients at the quarantine centre. She could take leave only to admit her son in the hospital, and returned immediately to resume her duties.
The life of an Anganwadi worker is tough. Perhaps it was more difficult for me as I am not from here. Some local people resented me. They complained that I had taken away the job from local women. I was beaten, and even threatened with rape, to make me leave this village. But things have changed with time. Now the villagers listen to me, and trust almost everything I say.
We work very long hours, take a lot of personal risk, and get only Rs 7500 per month. There is no pension policy for us. Only we know how much we have to sacrifice just to do our duty. To most people, we are perhaps invisible. But we know that we have touched the lives of people around us.
Also read : ‘Global Health Leaders’ in India’s Villages