Matilda Kullu hails from Gargadbahal village in Sundargarh district, Odisha. The village has about 1,000 people, mostly from the Kharia tribe.

Wanting to earn money to support her family, the 47-year-old started working as an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker in 2006.

Each day, she wakes up as early as 5 am and finishes her household chores. Then at 7.30 am, she rides her bike to work carrying a first-aid kit in her bag, followed by door-to-door visits.

When she started as an ASHA worker, her first job was to convince people to visit the doctor if they got sick, as they often treated themselves using local herbs or performing rituals.

Matilda urged people to seek medical care, and over the years, she has been successful in bringing about a mammoth change in people’s mindsets.

Even pregnant women would deliver at home, leading to several complications arising during childbirth.

“In the beginning, my job entailed checking up on pregnant women and providing them with every kind of support possible. For taking a pregnant lady to the hospital, we were given Rs 600 per patient,” she recalls.

It was after a few successful hospital deliveries that women started trusting hospitals. The ASHA worker has, so far, assisted over 200 deliveries.

Matilda also had to fight casteism, as villagers would not allow her to even touch pregnant women.

“There was a time I was shunned because of my caste. Today, people seek me out. The same families that once looked at me with disgust call me when their daughters or daughters-in-law are pregnant and need to be taken to the hospital,” she says.

Now, doctors trust her and call her into labour rooms during deliveries to enable them to act in emergencies. She is also entrusted with vaccination drives and family planning campaigns.

But, despite her work, the salary she earns is meagre. She earns not more than Rs 5,000 per month. But she persists as she believes that “this work is beyond the salary I get”.

Matilda was the first ASHA worker to be recognised and featured in the Forbes India W-Power 2021 list. She says that the entire village had erupted into celebrations on hearing about this.