On Women’s “Day From searching for support to becoming a pillar of one: Sahista’s beautiful journey of self-discovery”

Five months ago, Keshav (name changed), a two-year-old boy was brought to Amrit clinic Bedawal (located 25 km from the nearest Tehsil Salumbar, and almost 100 kms from Udaipur), by his parents. He was suffering from severe pneumonia and needed immediate care. Sahista, a primary healthcare nurse at the clinic, tried her best to save him: she started his medications and oxygen, counselled the parents, and made plans for his referral to higher medical centre. However, Keshav’s parents had other plans. They did not trust western medicine and took their child back home. Soon thereafter, he passed away.

When the news broke, Sahista wept profusely. This incident still shakes her out of her sleep. As the eldest among five siblings, Sahista is often reminded of the time when they were not taken to the hospital when sick. Sadly, this is still a reality for a large part of our country’s population even today.

Sahista along with her team at Amrit clinic is striving her best to change this: by providing quality healthcare in remote regions of southern Rajasthan 24X7, areas where such care has been almost completely absent. The clinics draw their strength from nurses like Sahista, who are not only providing services, but also negotiating local perceptions around healthcare.

Sahista, 24, hails from Phalasiya panchayat in Jhadol block, Udaipur- one of the remotest blocks in the district. In a society which expects women to get married by the age of 18, she, along with her sister Khushnoor (23), dreamt of something different: of becoming a nurse. Growing up in a conservative family in rural Jhadol, Sahista felt alone in making a career for herself. However, she did find a best friend, confidante, and lifelong companion, both in her sister and her mother.

When life became tough and Sahista could not muster courage and faith in herself, her sister and mother did this for her! Fighting societal perceptions and advocating for their education, their mother was there with them, like a rock. At every step, she claimed that her daughters would be better than boys.

“I remember how my mother used to fight with many of our relatives……she was always on our side! Now, working for me is as important as breathing. If I stop working, I will feel like I am not living,” Sahista shares.

Sahista joined Basic Healthcare Services (BHS) in November 2021, and the last 1.5 years have been life-changing. “I used to weigh 45-46 kgs when I had just joined Amrit. Now my weight has improved. My haemoglobin has also increased. From 7-8 it is now 12-13. I have gained so much confidence while working here,” Sahista beams.

Adding lessons from her own life into her work, Sahista has been playing her part in creating awareness about Anaemia. “I tell everyone that they can eat whatever is available in their houses. The food doesn’t have to be very expensive for it to be rich in iron. I give them examples of locally available food – the green leafy vegetable (Bathua/ pigweed), there is Gur and Chana (Jaggary and Bengal gram). Many women have started following my advice, yet there is so much more that still needs to be done.”

From a timid young girl to a confident nurse, Sahista has made a long journey in such a short span. Her wish? That there are many more young girls doing the kind of work that she does:

“This profession lets you understand your bodies and those of others. Once we know ourselves, only then we can help others”.

Behind her, hidden from the World view, are the many women- her confidants and supporters- who have always been there for her- her mother, sister, Pushpa didi (a health worker whom she remembers fondly), who play not a small part in this beautiful transformation. Salute to the Women around (and not behind) the many successful women!

End of our talk, Sahista is back at her work- moving smoothly like a Gazelle from one side of the clinic to another. To take a break and pose for a few photos, only at our insistence. She and her fellow nurses live like a family, dealing with over 60 patients on busy days, together with deliveries and medical emergencies late in the night. Tall order this, almost like challenging the mighty Aravalis.

Even at this young age, Sahista teaches us how life can be lived with lightness, generosity, laughter and friendship.

Drishti Agarwal

23 March 2023