The extremely high temperature of Mumbai, as much as 39°C doesn’t seem to have an effect of this dedicated set of 25 women sitting in the classroom known as ‘Swasthya Sevika’. There is one thing common among all of these women – each of them have had and fought some extraordinary situations in their lives to be here. For instance, there is 20 years old Savitri Dham, a mother of 2 years old son and a divorcee, sitting in the front row. She got married at a really young age and as fate would have it, her husband turned abusive. That’s when she took a stand for herself and got a divorce to start her life afresh. There is Lavita Mondkar, sitting right next to Savitri. Lavita is 22 years old and she discontinued her education when she was 13 to take care of her sick mother and the younger siblings. Today, she is here at Swasthya Sevika, but until now, a usual day in her life would include doing all the domestic chores and get beaten up by an alcoholic father. The rest of these women also have a more or less similar background story. All of them have had a lot of challenges and have been in worse conditions. But now, their lives are about to change, as they are a part of a Nurse-aide program called ‘Swasthya Sevika’. This vocational course is run by Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA), a non-profit organization based in Mumbai.
What Swasthya Sevika strives to do is to look out for adolescent girls who have dropped out of schools for various reasons. It gives economic opportunities to such girls apart from helping the scarcity of manual power required in the current health system. This they do by training a staff which is called nursing assistants. It is an eight months long course which is supported by the Tech Mahindra Foundation. This helps the girls get trained and be a part of various hospitals and maternity homes. They seek to achieve two things:
- Empower these girls so as to help them achieve financial freedom.
- Build a group of good quality professionals for the healthcare sector in urban areas.
As of now, as many as 600 Swasthya Sevikas have graduated from this course, comprising of 38 batches. Santacruz and Kurla are the two centers where this program is conducted for free. A lot of nursing homes and hospitals have tie-ups with them to help the girls with internships and jobs after the course. The program coordinator, Ujwala Bapat said that the students getting enrolled here belong to low income group families and they join this course to be able to earn. Moreover, they have also had their own set of issues and to be able to come out of them, this course proves to be a great opportunity. She adds that it isn’t just a vocational training course, but also a personality development course which helps inculcate mental toughness and resilience in the students. They have monthly tests to check how much they have learned. Asha Kumari, a student, said that the teachers are extremely helpful and in just one month she has got to learn a lot. Asha’s family is happy to see her progress and she is now looking for an internship.
To get enrolled for this course, the girls are assessed based on their basic written and reading communication skills. Then, they have to declare that they have a will to be a part of it and they have their family’s consent. Once admitted, each one gets counseled to help them get through the course. A volunteer counselor at SNEHA, Swati Gupta said that these sessions help them learn about the family backgrounds of the girls and watch out for any issues that could be potential hindrance in their education.The students are given knowledge training, soft skills training and basic computer skills. Every month, a medical practitioner is brought in to talk about their experiences. On regular basis, sessions on social issues like work ethics, sexuality, gender equality, emotional intelligence etc. are also conducted.
Something like this is bound to have a lot of challenges. A teacher at this program said that since most of the girls here have dropped out of their schools, they have extremely low grasping power and fail to understand some complex topics. Hence, the course content has been translated to Hindi for their benefit. Moreover, some of them even dropout of this course due to a lot of reasons, and none of them include that the course is tough. Most of the reasons are personal. For this very reason, the families of the students are also kept in loop and counseled regularly. All of these girls are in touch throughout, and even after they get a job. They provide them with a platform to showcase their varied talents through various cultural programs. The girls are also provided sensitization training for sexual harassment at workplace and are given exposure visits to hospitals.
There is an active alumni network, 70% of which are working as nursing professionals in various hospitals. These women emerge out as confident and independent after the course. It goes unsaid that a woman who is trained to be a professional will have much greater impact than someone who has just received a monetary benefit. This also empowers their families as they receive economic benefits. Fatima Tyrewala can be a testimony for this. She finished the course 2 years ago. She started off as a timid girl with low self-confidence, but now she is an independent woman working at a nursing home with a ₹10,000 monthly salary. She efficiently takes care of her family now.
So what keeps these people at SNEHA going? They believe it is the students and their aspirations which do. To see them come to the class smiling everyday regardless of what goes on at their homes inspires them to continue doing the good and help them empower.
Note: the names of the students have been changed for privacy reasons.