The villages in Nandurbar, Maharashtra, across the Narmada are so far away that in the absence of roads, it requires the neighboring villagers to commute by boat.
Our story begins with 28-year-old Relu Vasave, who lives in these remote tribal areas. Relu joined as an Anganwadi worker in 2014 with the Zilla Parishad. Her job involves monitoring the health of pregnant women and children up to six years of age and giving doses of medication, nutritional supplements, as per the schedule and government protocol is all a part of her duty.
In normal conditions, women visit the Anganwadi center for check-ups, but sometimes Relu’s job demands her to reach pregnant women and provide home vaccinations.
For the job, Relu learned how to row a boat, as she did not know that she would be needed to row a boat to attend to pregnant women and newborns.
In 2016, the Anganwadi worker then approached a colleague who knew how to row and requested her to teach her rowing. “We borrowed a boat from the fishermen, and I started taking lessons slowly. Two months later, I was able to cross the river alone,” Relu adds.
“I have seen the river since childhood and travelled by boat to visit my relatives, but never knew how to row a boat. The villagers rely on the fishermen for transport. But depending on them for availability often causes delay for her work,” Relu says.
“I was very scared of the water and the flow of the river’s currents. The winds, rains and the increased water levels during the monsoon made it scarier,” Relu says, adding that now with brimming confidence, she brings along her seven-year-old and 13-month-old daughters to work.
Since then, Relu regularly travels 14 km — 7 km each way, thrice a week, to the hamlets attending the villagers. Her work routine requires her to attend to women from 8 am until noon. Then she goes for field visits. “Usually, people visit the centre, but during the COVID-19 lockdown, I had to visit everyone and rowed almost daily to all the villages,” she adds.
Nutrition and health sessions are conducted regularly for expecting mothers in hamlets by Relu.
Relu’s extraordinary work got recognized by her senior officials and even the chief executive officer of the Zilla Parishad.
“The work done by Relu is commendable. After realising she has sincerely attended seven hamlets in her jurisdiction, we recognised her work and felicitated her for the same. Her honest work was reflected when not a single child was found in the severe malnutrition category during the COVID-19 lockdown,” says CEO, Raghunath Gawade.
“Rowing a stretch of 7 km each way requires two hours of her time. I believe a motorboat will make her job much simpler,” Ramesh says.
The honest and dedicated hard work of Relu has helped 138 women and children so far.