Twenty-eight-year-old Relu Vasave lives in the remote tribal areas of Nandurbar district of Maharashtra.
Her village is so far away that in the absence of roads, it requires villagers from Chimalkhedi and neighbouring hamlets to commute by boats to cross the river Narmada.
In 2014, when Relu joined as an Anganwadi worker with the Zilla Parishad, little did she know that she would be required to row a boat to attend to pregnant women and newborns.
Her job involves monitoring the health of pregnant women and children up to six years of age. Giving doses of medication and nutritional supplements, as per the schedule and government protocol is all a part of her duty.
In normal conditions, women visit the Anganwadi centre for check-ups, but sometimes Relu’s job demands her to reach pregnant women and provide home vaccinations.
“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.
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.
Oarswoman to the rescue
Besides gathering courage, Relu’s hands would hurt by evening when she returned home. But the worker could not complain as she had to cook dinner for the family.
“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 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 tells The Better India.
“The government has given me an important responsibility, and I have to fulfil it,” Relu asserts.
Relu’s husband, Ramesh, says that his wife knew she would have to undergo hardships. “We do not see it as a burden or even a matter of pride. Relu’s job demanded to learn rowing, and she did it. There are hardships in her work, but that is okay. There are struggles in everyone’s life, and when Relu sails through the water, it helps the villagers,” he says, adding that Relu is helped by fishermen or some experienced people at times. “We know there is always support from villagers,” he says.
Speaking about road infrastructure, Ramesh says that the construction of the road for increased connectivity started this year but they “don’t know when it will be completed”.
He adds that at times they manage to hire a motorboat for quick access.
Need for a motorboat
Relu’s extraordinary work got recognised 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.
Raghunath adds that for the safety of Relu, she will be given a life jacket.
Her immediate manager, Sagar Choudhary, a project officer, says, “Relu did not make any excuses to get the job done and fulfilled her responsibility.”
But Ramesh feels that beyond appreciation and a pat on the back, a motorboat would help his wife to do a better job.
“Rowing a stretch of 7 km each way requires two hours of her time but a motorboat can reduce the time taken by half or at least 45 minutes. It will also reduce the physical effort required,” Ramesh says.
Relu’s husband says that a motor worth Rs 40,000 can be fitted to the small boat that she rows. “I have discussed the solutions, including getting a new motorboat, with the Zilla Parishad officials and hopefully we can get more support,” he adds.
The honest and dedicated hard work of Relu has helped 138 women and children so far. To make her life easier, you could motorise the boat she rows through financial support. Relu can be reached on +918275336481 to seek more information on how you could help her in her brave endeavours.