A gate stands in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India, as a symbol of the country’s hard-fought but successful defense against a crippling disease. Construction was completed in 2014, when the World Health Organization declared India “polio-free.”
Project Concern International (PCI) played an important role in this success through the CORE Group Polio Project – a multi-country, multi-partner initiative that provides financial support and technical assistance to strengthen host country efforts to eradicate the disease.
To date, PCI India has trained over 560 Community Mobilization Coordinators (CMCs) and 50 Block Mobilization Coordinators (BMCs) through the project. In addition to promoting polio vaccination in their communities, these CMCs and BMCs also provide other health and education services around routine immunizations, sanitation, and maternal and child practices to help keep other preventable diseases at bay.
In honor of World Polio Day, meet just a few of these “gatekeepers” — or unsung heroes — who are working with more than 240,000 households across India.
“Community Mobilization Coordinators are the real foot soldiers of the program who are at the forefront of bringing changes,” said Dr. Sudipta Mondal, Director of Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation at PCI India and head of the CORE Group Polio Project. “They work tirelessly for the community that they belong to and care for.”
Opening Doors and Minds
Tarannum was 24 years old when her father died, leaving her mother to fend for her and her 7 siblings. Being the eldest, she was determined to shoulder some of the responsibility that had fallen on her mother, so Tarannum took on the job of a vaccinator in the local health center. A few months into this job, a friend introduced her to a local Block Mobilization Coordinator (BMC) working with the CORE-PCI Polio Project. That is how she ended up becoming a Community Mobilization Coordinator (CMC).
As a CMC, Tarannum did door-to-door visits to keep track of pregnant ladies and newborn children, conduct influencer meetings, talk with expectant and new mothers, and undertake repeat visits with families who refused to immunize their children. It was during her interaction with one of these families that an idea struck her.
Tarannum analyzed the data of refusal families and saw that most were very poor and marginalized. She also knew from her house visits that older children from these families did not attend school. After speaking with a few families about this issue, Tarannum learned they could not afford private schools and felt the government ones barely functioned.
To help, Tarannum approached the head of the local madrasa (Muslim school) and asked if he’d be willing to take on very poor children as students at a nominal fee. He readily agreed. In the end, Tarannum managed to get 50 children into school and convince anti-immunization families to follow routine immunization schedules for all their children. This initiative led to her promotion as a BMC.
“I work really hard and am very dedicated to the community,” Tarannum said. “When hard work pays off, it always feels great.”
Community is Family
Amitur Rahim was born in an orthodox Muslim family in district Shamli in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and also one of its poorest. Despite her community’s resistance to allowing her to work, Amitur stood her ground.
When the CORE-PCI Polio Project began in 2004, Amitur’s father was approached to allow her to come on as a Community Mobilization Coordinator (CMC). He was reluctant at first, as he knew that a working girl from his family would be frowned upon. However, with constant coaxing from more progressive colleagues and from Amitur, he eventually gave in. Amitur was only 16 years old at the time, but she leaped at the opportunity to become a CMC in her village. The job was not without its challenges.
“Several members from my extended family were unhappy,” Amitur recalls. “When I took up the role of a CMC, they were aghast at my parents for allowing me to work. … People used to say, ‘Why do (you) need to work when (you) have 6 brothers?’ I was, however, determined to work in my own village and with my own community. After 13 years of doing so, I’m happy to say that I have been successful.”
In addition to completing her master’s degree, Amitur was eventually promoted to the position of a Block Mobilization Coordinator. She now works as a Senior Treatment Advisor at a hospital in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.
More than a Village Girl
Archana Singh was in her first year of college when a friend recommended her for the position of a Community Mobilization Coordinator (CMC) in her village. When she took it on, she had no knowledge of the health space but credits senior staff members at PCI India with mentoring her and helping her learn on the job.
She worked as a CMC for 7 years, during which time she also completed her master’s degree in business administration. Towards the end of her stint as a CMC, Archana was asked to train other CMCs. She said this opportunity helped her find her voice and recognize all the knowledge she had built up about polio and routine immunizations. Although she had been hesitant to move out of her comfort zone before, training other CMCs gave her the confidence she needed to take her career to the next level. Now, Archana is one year into her new job as the District Coordinator for a health program for adolescents under the National Health Mission.
“When I was interviewing for my current job, the interview panel was surprised at my level of confidence, since they expected much less from a village girl,” Archana said. “I was very happy to prove them wrong.”
Story by Aarti Dayal, PCI India
PCI India, as part of a global consortium led by World Vision, recently received five years of follow-on funding to continue working with the CORE Secretariat in India, the Government of India, the World Health Organization, local district authorities and communities, and numerous local and international NGOs to increase the acceptance of the polio vaccine through community mobilization in high risk areas. To learn more, visit https://www.pciglobal.org/india/core-group-polio-project.