An outstanding soldier in the war against polio
By Shamila Sharma
Gangacholi, U.P. For community mobiliser Saroj Verma, her mission in life is to ensure that her village is rid of polio.
Such is her dedication, that Saroj even missed the wedding of her own son to attend the polio round preparation review.
On a winter morning, while her house was packed with guests and the mood for wedding festivities had set in, she quietly set off for a polio meeting.
“No, my family did not complain. They never do. They know how important I feel about my work. My elderly relatives held the fort, headed the ceremonies till I returned”, she says.
The 45-year old has information about all the 500 odd households in Gangacholi, a remote village in J P Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh, on her fingertips.
Ask her about the children under the age of 5 years, where they live, how many children were immunised at the booth, how many during house-to-house activity in the last round, how many were given polio drops during routine immunization, she will tell you all from memory and you can tally the information with the records.
Impressed with her performance and dedication, the Uttar Pradesh government has announced an award for her. The Chief Medical Officer and the Immunisation Officer of the district, recommended Saroj for the award after a field visit to Gangacholi.
“I don’t know what the award is all about, I just do my work to my satisfaction”, she says humbly.
Recalling the days when she joined UNICEF’s Social Moblisation Network as a Community Mobilsation Coordinator (CMC) in June 2005, Saroj says there were 15-20 households which strongly opposed polio vaccination.
“Some said it could cause infertility, some said the vaccine had other side effects and was harmful”, says Saroj.
“It was not easy to make these families shed their perceptions. Some families were even difficult to track as they were brick kiln workers, on the move most of the time”, she says.
“I took advantage of my image of an elderly advisor and approached these families. Even those offering tough resistance gave me a hearing.
“My persistent efforts did not go waste. Slowly they changed. I gave them examples of children in my family who are immunized at the booth in every polio round, and it worked.”
Saroj, whose 5 children are all grown up, stays in a joint family. Her two sisters-in-law, have five children below the age of five years. Saroj had for years nurtured the desire to do something for children.
The last resisting family was converted in November, she says.
Saroj is among the around 5,000 CMCs engaged in building positive behaviour and support for the polio eradication programme in Uttar Pradesh.
“When I got married and came to live in this village 28 years ago, there were two polio afflicted children in my neighbourhood. I used to feel sorry for them. I had no idea why they were crippled. I came to know about the disease only later.”
I tell people: “The vaccine is coming free of cost at our doorstep, it can prevent a disease which cripples and no matter what we spend on treatment, it cannot be cured.”
Married at a very young age, Saroj is not much educated. Her ability to read and write is just enough to maintain a record of the children in her area.
“This was one apprehension we had while recruiting her, though she was qualified otherwise, being a well respected person in the village with excellent relations with people, a network she fully utilized for the polio programme,” says Sugreev Kumar, one of the two social mobilization coordinators, of Jyotiba Phule Nagar district.
“Little did we realize then that she would be such an asset”, he says.
While her seniors site her example to other community mobilisers, Saroj continues to “serve the children”.
Gangacholi, as the name suggests is a village on the banks of river Ganges, located in a remote corner of J P Nagar. Its population is predominantly Hindu, most of them daily wage workers.
Close to Moradabad, the district where the polio virus is endemic, Gangacholi falls under Rehra block, also a high risk area for polio. Last year Rehra reported eight cases of polio, one of them from Gangacholi.