Young women overcome obstacles to help others

Two champions who have joined the fight against COVID-19 in Odisha

Radhika Srivastava and Neha Naidu
Itishree working in a BPO.
23 April 2020

As life around them came to a standstill in Odisha with the state going into a complete lockdown, Mini and Itishree stepped forward and joined the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The 19-year-old friends grabbed the chance to work at a call center set up by the Odisha State Government to keep a track of persons under home quarantine. “I didn’t want to sit at home helpless and saw it as a great opportunity to contribute to my State,” said Itishree.

The call centre was set up to track people who had been quarantined and were seen to be at risk of contracting COVID-19. Each day the girls call people in quarantine to check on their location and their health.

“Every day I call up around 200 persons. We ask them if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, we also reassure them and remind them about the precautions they need to take during quarantine.

“At times people are very rude with me and it makes me upset. But I try to be patient and tell them it is for their own good that they remain under strict quarantine,” said Itishree.

The task is not easy. Often people get angry and impatient, but both young women are encouraged by the opportunity to work.

“It gives me great pride to work at the call center. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but always dreamt of working in a big office and I am happy to be doing so now,” said Itishree.

Mini working in a BPO.

Mini and Itishree have come a long way since their troubled childhoods that forced them to grow up without their families. They spent several years in a child care institution from where they completed their schooling.

“Things weren’t easy. My parents, who were separated never visited me all the years I lived in the centre. But I enjoyed being with other children,” said Mini.

To prepare them for a life outside the institution, both the girls benefitted from the `aftercare’ initiatives established by UNICEF in collaboration with the Youth Council for Development Alternatives to build their knowledge, skills and to boost their confidence to lead an independent life. These initiatives included supporting Mini with hospitality training and Itishree taking a course in graphic design.

“The two girls have made the best use of the support provided to them. While we helped them secure an education, remain protected and helped them become independent, the girls have shown great resilience and have worked hard to overcome their difficulties,” said District Child Protection Officer, Khordha, Banishree Pattnaik.

Despite the challenges that still lie ahead, both Mini and Itishree are eager to help other children who like them don't have a stable childhood and live in institutions. In fact, Itishree has a word of advice for them:

'I want all such children to know that if we could do well, so can they. They need to work hard and never give up on their dreams. We need to ensure they are protected, encouraged and given an opportunity to study.

"When children leave the institution they have grown up in, they are quite vulnerable and need support to stand on their own feet. I would like to urge the government to ensure that facilities are made available to such children to enroll in a university and pursue a degree. This would give them a head start in life," Itishree said.

UNICEF Odisha Field Office supports ongoing child protection programmes in the state in partnership with the state government towards ensuring every child in the state is protected, and the team are always ready to listen to and support the children.

'Mini and Itishree are an inspiration to all of us. They have shown us what has worked and what more needs to be done to ensure more efficient aftercare once children leave the institutions, they grow up in. We are very proud of both of them," said Chief of Field Office, Odisha, Monika Nielsen. 

Aftercare is a support programme for young people leaving institutional care or any other care arrangement once they reach 18 years of age, as per the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In collaboration with the Government of Odisha and with support from UNICEF, aftercare programmes have been established in Boudh, Bolangir and Khordha districts of the state. This collaboration has already set the ball rolling for scaling up of aftercare programme across the State.