A friendly voice down the line

Shivamma’s phone calls and friendly advice are reaching women when they need it most. Community health workers in Telangana adapt to working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Avinaash Kastura
07 August 2020

For the past ten years, Shivamma has been a dedicated and hard-working Anganwadi Worker (loosely translated as a community health worker) in Hyderabad. Her love for children and interest in serving people motivated her to take up this job.

“I have always wanted to help people and being an Anganwadi Worker makes me reach out to the kids and women,” she says with a wide smile on her face.

Across India, workers like Shivamma play a vital role in improving the nutrition of women and children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shivamma has been a strong force in helping and guiding pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Since the lockdown and post lockdown period, Anganwadi Centres are not providing hot meals like they usually would to all mothers and young children in their area. Anganwadi Centres are a place where parents and children gather, and where Anganwadi Workers guide parents and provide support on all topics of care, such as breastfeeding and complementary feeding, as well as the importance of play. They are places where parents, especially mothers, can obtain support and where families are linked to many government services. With less face-to-face interactions at the Centre and no home visits, keeping a track of pregnant women and new mothers got a little arduous.

“Scared of the prevailing situation, several mothers asked us not to visit them,” says Shivamma, who regularly visited homes before the pandemic.

But this did not deter Shivamma from keeping in touch with women in her area. She takes her responsibility seriously and women and children’s health and well-being is of utmost importance to Shivamma. Since 24 March Shivamma has been regularly following up with pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers by phone. The focus has been on new mothers who delivered, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A community health worker on the phone and with a guide book on her lap.
Shivamma uses a government issued counselling guide to counsel women by phone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New mother, 30-year-old Anita, has received four calls and says, “She has been guiding me well and now I take better care of my infant.”

She makes at least three to four calls to pregnant women and new mothers every day. She spends around 15 minutes talking to the mothers and discussing important topics and sharing information related to their health, the infants’ well-being and most importantly breastfeeding.

A woman at home seated and on a mobile phone.
New mother Anita receiving some expert advice and discussing breastfeeding, via phone with Anganwadi Worker Shivamma, from her home in Hyderabad.

Renuka is one of the mothers that eagerly awaits Shivamma’s phone calls, especially after the birth of her third daughter where she is looking after a newborn and her other children. 

“Whenever Shivamma calls me, she interacts well and answers all my questions,” says Renuka.

Since most women do not have smart phones with video calling capabilities, being a good listener and knowing how to connect with the women are important skills that Shivamma and other Anganwadi Workers have developed.

With a counseling book, Shivamma patiently teaches mothers on the right way of breastfeeding. Through repeated phone calls, she has been triumphant in making women understand the correct breastfeeding techniques.

For Shivamma, it is a matter of pride and immense satisfaction to help other women, who she says are her sisters!

A woman at home seated and breastfeeding
Renuka breastfeeds her daughter at home in Hyderabad and waits for Shivamma's check-in phone call.