All the experiences that I have had in the past, have made me realize that for any organization to sustain itself, there is one extremely important factor – the belief in the organization that its founding members have.
Swasthya Swaraj started about 4 years ago. Back then, Dr. Aquinas (founding member) and Sister Angelina had no support. They just decided to take on the responsibility of providing proper healthcare services in the poorest part of India. It’s hard for me to digest the kind of determination and will power that these two brave women must have mustered in order to start the organization. These days, we use vehicles to go to our clinics in the field. Back then, they used to go walking and check the patients, since there was no other way, no support and no employees. When I heard from them how they started the journey of Swasthya Swaraj, I was really taken aback. I found this scenario extremely difficult; how these two women must have provided healthcare services by walking more than 25-30 km every week. Considering that the area is considered as a high risk zone with violent activities, it must have taken a lot more than just determination to work in these areas. There must be some source of inspiration that was driving these two women to work with the tribals in the remotest area of India, from where no news had ever been reported.
Now-a-days, it is quite easy for us to travel to the field and work in our respective areas, because of the availability of transportation. But to get the organization at this stage from nowhere in four years’ time sounds unimaginable to me. We have a staff of around 80 people who are working now but back then, it was just them. I had huge respect for Dr. Aquinas before I met her but when I visited the field areas; I saw how she and Sister Angelina have built everything brick by brick, from nothing to two functional clinics in two clusters with community nurses, field animators and lab technicians employed full time. Seeing this just multiplied my respect for them, many times over. I immediately felt that I have to give every ounce of my blood and sweat in my work here, anything less would mean disrespecting the four years of excruciating work that these two women have put in.
Dr. Aquinas and Sister Angelina, both have had an extensive experience in their respective fields, there is nothing they do not know about it. They could have had nice quiet job in the private sector, earning loads of money and living a comfortable life. But they chose to come here. Dr. Aquinas was teaching in St. Johns medical college for almost 25 years. She has more practical working experience than my age. She must have had numerous offers from various institutions to work with them, the same goes for Sr Angelina. Even after having such an extensive working experience both of them are humble and down to earth, you will never sense any pride when you talk to them. They still feel they have not done enough. This is what inspires me even more.
I have not met a lot of people in my life who have such down to earth attitude after working for years. Both of them certainly inspire me a lot, sometimes when I think about the depth of efforts they have put in Swasthya Swaraj I start to question myself if I’m worthy enough to work here, or if I’m doing enough every day, am I doing justice to the role that I have been entrusted with. This is what keeps me awake at night sometimes. There are lot of stories that these women have with them from the time Swasthya Swaraj started, I think that it’s time for these stories to come out, it is time that people know more about the challenges of Kalahandi. In the past 1 month that I have spent here, there is one thing that I am very much clear about. Social change does not happen with action of one or two people, they can start the movement with the vision but how firmly that vision is driven down in the organization in the following years is what determines how the organization will bring about change. I think that Dr. Aquinas and Sr Angelina have definitely been successful in upholding the vision of Swasthya Swaraj. It is clear in every decision they make. Every core meeting and every staff meeting that happens, highlights with the vision of the organization.
I think that Dr. Aquinas and Sister Angelina are warriors who chose to take up a challenge that everyone else was not willing to take. Sometimes I even wonder why the government is doing so little in these areas.
But then, there will never be a correct answer to why and what the government is doing/not doing. Dr.Aquinas tells us that whenever she met a government official, they didn’t even know the areas we are working in. For them these areas practically do not even exist. I think it is in the best interest that we keep focusing on what we can do as a collective of people, to bring the change we talk about rather than blaming one another. Perhaps someday the weather in Kalahandi might change and the world will notice it. But for every new person that enters this space, there will always be ready information, inspiration and guidance thanks to the vision of its founding team.
There is no doubt, your team is inspirational. The optimism and faith i gathered in the September ’17 visit, keeps me going sometimes even now. To know that someone somewhere is doing what SS team members are doing is humbling …