By Monalisa Padhee
As the searing midday sun beats down on the scorched Rajasthani desert, local women are starting to arrive at Dhani Purohitan village – 30km from bustling Ajmer – for their routine ante-natal check-ups.
Health worker Uma Kanwar, and midwife Achuki Devi, are waiting for them. Perched on a large verandah outside Achuki’s house, they are soon surrounded by many women from the community, and the monthly health meeting and important ante-natal checks are soon underway.
What makes this so remarkable is that Achuki Devi is did not receive a formal education. And she is 70 years old.
With no formal education, Achuki Devi – known as Daima – is the backbone of her village’s gyneacological healthcare. She recalls that it was her mother-in who initially trained her in delivering babies. With no hospital, or alternative source of medical care, she became the only support the village had.
Many women credit Daima Achuki with bringing down maternal and infant mortality rates, and single-handedly improving the health outcomes for women and children.
And those same women thought she was taking a very bold step by coming to Barefoot College – which is a great distance from little Dhani Purohitan – to receive training from a physician.
In 35 years of providing life-saving services, she has delivered more than 1200 babies, and provided ante- and postnatal care to more than 1,500 women and children. Today, with easier access to hospitals, Daima Achuki makes sure every woman gets the chance to benefit from hospital delivery, even when it means travelling with them to far away facilities at odd hours of the day.
At the age of 70, she is just tireless. She laughs heartily and says: “I am the ‘health guardian’ of my village – and I just can’t stop”.
And she doesn’t stop. She has successfully mobilised the entire community to participate in an immunisation program, making sure that no mother and child is left behind. She’s also at the forefront of breaking the silence around menstruation, and is a role model for adolescent girls and women, shattering age-old taboos and myths, and discussing issues such as the correct age of marriage, and how to stand up to domestic violence.
She has motivated many women to fight for their equality and rights, and advocates spacing between children, and the use of various forms of contraception which has benefitted more than 100 women.
Dr. Monalisa Padhee is Program Coordinator for the Women Wellness Program at Barefoot College. With Achuki Devi’s story, she is competing for the Transforming India Award.
Achuki Devi is just one of the 48 midwives trained by Barefoot College under the Women Wellness Program.