Last week, we introduced you to Sarashwati, a community health worker who had made it her mission to help ever single patient in Kawalwadi, a small village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. This week, the story continues, courtesy of Dr. Harish Kumar, our programme manager in India.
Sarashwati had polio as a child, leaving her with weakened legs and an obvious limp. However, she never let her disability get the best of her. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she’d remind herself that many people in her community had it much worse.
Her resilience and empathy have contributed to her success as a community health worker. She has a remarkable ability to convince difficult patients to go for treatment. When she learned that there were still three resistant patients in Kawalwadi who required cataract surgery to restore their sight, she made it her personal mission to ensure all three patients received treatment.
Every day, she returned to the village to visit each patient’s home. There are no roads to Kawalwadi, so she had to make the long journey by foot, stopping periodically to rest her tired, aching legs.
She’d visit with each patient for many hours, counselling them to go for surgery and reminding them that their vision could further deteriorate without treatment. She’d also create social pressure by talking to the patient’s relatives and community members about their condition. After a hard day’s work, she’d painfully make the long trip home in the evening.
After a month of this routine, two of the patients finally agreed to go for surgery. The third patient, a 100-year-old man, took another full month of visits to convince. One day, when Sarashwati sensed she was making progress, she called Udaygiri Lions Eye Hospital to arrange for a vehicle to pick the man up – and he finally agreed to be treated!
Up until that day, the man had refused to let Sarashwati step foot into his home when she came to visit. Today, however, he tells everyone that he should have listened to her sooner. Now, whenever Sarashwati visits Kawalwadi, the man – who once could barely see to navigate the village himself – holds her hand and escorts her around the village, a symbol of great respect.
Thanks to Sarashwati’s determination, every single person in Kawalwadi has been helped, and the village was finally declared avoidable-blindness free! In fact, it was the first village in the state of Maharashtra to achieve such status, but it surely won’t be the last. Sarashwati aspires to declare all 18 villages in her cluster area avoidable blindness-free, a feat we’re confident she can accomplish.
When asked about the secret behind her success, she says the first step is to believe in one’s own ability to achieve one’s goals. She says people who don’t know her have always viewed her as weak and deficient, and learning to break down those mental barriers was key for her.
Working to free others of their disabilities not only brings Sarashwati happiness, but it allows her to forget about her own struggles. For her, not only working but succeeding in this demanding profession is the ultimate form of liberation – it allows her to show the world how strong she truly is.
And because of Sarashwati’s incredible strength, entire communities are now stronger, too. All of us at Operation Eyesight would like to thank Sarashwati for her incredible dedication to eliminating avoidable blindness – for all the world to see!