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Here is a heart-warming, inspiring and negativity-busting story, which, might interest readers of this column at a time when our Prime Minister has compelled us, with his highly disingenuous statement on corruption last week, to debate on what exactly has created an atmosphere of negativity and pessimism in the country, what is sapping the morale of the executive, and damaging India's image abroad.
On the day that the government was rocked—and India's image besmirched—by debilitating disclosures about the corrupt deals involving a member of the Congress party's 'First Family', I was sitting, cross-legged and awe-struck, on the floor of a small house of Anjali Uikey, a tribal woman in a village in a Naxalite-affected region of Maharashtra, listening to her achievements that would definitely light the lamp of optimism among Indians.
Like hundreds of her colleagues, Anjali serves as an arogyadoot (community health volunteer) with SEARCH, a Gandhian organisation at Shodh Gram in Gadchiroli, an underdeveloped tribal district. This non-profit organisation has been founded by Dr Abhay Bang and Dr Rani Bang, both internationally acclaimed for their pioneering work in community health. Their success in drastically reducing the infant mortality rate (IMR), maternal mortality rate (MMR), malnutrition and illiteracy in the region have made SEARCH the cynosure of the United Nations' mission to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
I was filled with joy when Anjali, her dark face beaming with pride, said that Bodhali, her village, became a bal mrityu mukt gram (a village with zero infant mortality) in 2007 and has remained so for the past five years. Well-trained in the extremely inexpensive, but compassion-intensive, model of home-based neonatal care devised by the Bang couple, she explained how it has helped her community outperform the UN-MDG targets in mother and child health. Overall, the IMR, MMR and malnutrition-related diseases in the 50 villages served by SEARCH's volunteers are 60-80 percent lower than in the nearby villages covered by the government-run rural healthcare establishment. How have they achieved this miracle? As Dr Abhay Bang described it vividly and evocatively, it is because the arogyadoots have "kandhe par aspataal, dimaag mein jnan, haath mein hunar, aur dil mein karuna". (A shoulder-bag containing a low-cost health-kit that serves as a hospital-travelling-to-people's-doorsteps; traditional and modern knowledge in their heads; healing skills in their hands; and compassion in their hearts). Community service of this kind has given tremendous self-respect, dignity and societal recognition to semi-literate Anjali and others like her.