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An Asha Worker, who fought against discrimination and casteism, made it to the Forbes India list: Matilda Kullu

The Forbes India’s W-Power 2021 list includes Matilda Kullu, an accredited social health activist (ASHA) from Sundargarh, Odisha, along with actress Sanya Malhotra and notable banker Arundhati Bhattacharya, among others. This 45-year-old woman was honoured for her efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic in Odisha.

She has been working as an ASHA worker for almost fifteen years. She oversees the health, hygiene and contraception of the women, expectant moms, and kids in her village. She is the first ASHA worker whose contribution to the medical profession was highlighted in the Forbes India list.

Early Struggles

When Kullu joined as an Asha, the villagers treated themselves with black magic rather than going to the doctor or a hospital when they got sick. It took years to persuade the locals to cease this and follow the right medical procedures

Matilda Kullu giving Polio Drops

Not only Kullu is a Scheduled Tribe, but she also had to deal with casteism and untouchability when making door-to-door visits.“People did not think of going to the hospital when they fell sick. When I used to advise them to go to the hospital, they used to ridicule me. I also had to bear the brunt of casteism,” she said. “It took years of work before I could make people understand the need to visit doctors instead of rushing to the local witch doctor”.

Her day begins at five in the morning. She pins her crisp blue sari and begins her door-to-door visits after finishing the housework, making lunch for her husband and two kids, feeding the cattle and so on. She checks on expectant and new moms, performs malaria tests, counsels women on cleanliness and contraception, meets with Anganwadi workers, monitors homes for signs of COVID and administers immunizations. Kullu owned a tailoring shop before joining ASHA. Through a self-help group in her area, she joined ASHAs.

During the Pandemic

Many people first believed COVID was a “hoax” and were afraid they would die if they received the vaccination, But Kullu was successful in persuading her villagers to get tested, segregate (if COVID positive), and receive vaccinations by giving polite suggestions.

Independence Day Special: Meet Odisha's ASHA Worker, Who Made It To Forbes  List For Improving Health System In Her Village | Features

When the nation was on lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak, she claimed that it was the responsibility of ASHAs like herself to identify COVID-19 victims as soon as possible and get them treated in hospitals. Kullu experienced some anxiety when she tested positive during the second wave. “The second wave was bhayanak (terrifying). I would think every day whether I would be able to make it”, she said.

Her oxygen level dropped to eighty-four. Every time she learned that someone had died from the virus while she was in quarantine, she would become anxious. She rapidly recovered, though, and returned to the field.“My TB patient needed her medicine, so I had to do everything to get better and tend to her,” she says as she talks about her journey to recovery.

Work beyond the Salary

Matilda receives a modest pay of Rs. 4,500 a month, but that has never stopped her from working tirelessly and sincerely. She frequently has to leave late at night to assist labouring women. After doing her regular task each day during the pandemic, she would administer COVID-19 testing in 50–60 homes. She made plans to take senior citizens to vaccination clinics also. “I love my work but the pay is very low. It is even disappointing at times because we put in so much effort to look after people yet have to fight to get our incentives on time. Recently, we had to protest to get our incentives, which were pending for more than two years,” says Kullu, who makes a living by working as a tailor.

The ASHA Worker Who Fought Casteism to Transform an Entire VillageDoor-to-door campaigning

The Honour

After years of adversity, Kullu says she feels recognized to be included on the Forbes list and is pleased that ASHA workers are being acknowledged.“I like helping people. Seeing them healthy and happy makes me satisfied. I don’t want anyone to ever feel sad when they see me, even if it means burying my hurt”, she said.

She also imparts guidance to fellow ASHAs who are just getting started. “work hard and success will come naturally. Not everyone is lucky to be an ASHA worker. You are lucky to have this opportunity. So work from the heart.”

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