By A K SAHOO
Gunupur (Odisha), July 3: This real life story of extradiordinary sacrifices by an ordinary nurse. Many might not believe this story as it might appear for them as well-scripted content of an astute fiction writer. But every bit of this piece of story is very true and intriguing, as well.
In this competitive era, when most of the people are excessively involved with their personal interest and least concerned about others in the society who have been left to toil and suffer, – Rebati Swain, an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) gave up all her comforts to serve the Lanjia Souras, a primitive tribe living on hilltop villages under Gunupur block in Odisha’s Rayagada district.
The 60-year-old nurse hailing from Raghunathpur in Jagatsinghpur district not only sacrificed her good family life but also swallowed, albeit, willingly and happily, the pangs and miseries life in an inaccessible tribal tract devoid of minimum facilities like electricity, roads and transportation. And, all these sacrifices she made were for a cause – to serve the innocent tribals who she always considers as ‘Children of God’ for their simplicity and honesty.
After successfully convincing her husband, a senior government employee, about her mission to serve the tribals, – Rebati joined in 1991 as an ANM at Jagannathpur Community Health Centre (CHC) under Gunupur block, nearly 500 km from Bhubaneswar and 100 km away from the district headquarters. There were no motorable roads at that time to reach her place of posting, let alone the hilltop villages located above four thousand feet from the sea level.
Rebati was assigned to work in villages under Kulsingh gram panchayat under Jagannathpur CHC. Everyday, she walks miles with a first-aid bag to reach the villagers to serve them. She convinces chronic patients to visit local hospitals for better healthcares.
The Lanjia Souras who would previously visited black magicians and quacks to get rid of their illness, initially did not respond to her advice positively. But, she never lost hope and continued her efforts to convince them of the value of modern medicines and healthcare.
In order to win the hearts of the tribals most of converted to Christianity in the British period, – she learnt their language and changed her religion from Hinduisim to Christianity.
“Initially, they did not show much interest in my advice to visit hospitals or taking medicines. They visited quacks and believed the words of black magicians who would exploit them. I was shocked and dismayed to see women dying while delivering child, infants and newborns perishing due to lack of minimum healthcare. Malaria, diarrhoea and cholera, the diseases that could be checked with minimum healthcare interventions and awareness, were major killers. Now, things have changed and they have realized the need for going to hospitals and availing modern healthcare,” says Rebati.
The nurse’s efforts have resulted in the area becoming malaria-free.
The elderly woman, who is going retire on June 30, 2018, had to literally metamorphose into tribal woman to win their trust. She adorned her with their clothes and ornaments; spoke the local language, composed and sang songs in the tribal language.
“I never knew when I was completely transformed by heart into tribal lady. They loved me, embraced me in their community and accepted what I suggested them on healthcare. Now, the maternal and infant mortality rates have drastically dropped in the area,” she informs.
Rebati never had any regrets for staying away from her family to serve the tribals.
“My husband and four children – two sons and two daughters – always inspired me to pursue my mission to serve the humanity. By the grace of God, they are all now leading happy life. I could not have asked the Almighty for anything more than this,” she says.
Known as Mother Teresa among the area, Rebati has been awarded thrice by the district administration for her selfless service and made brand ambassador of “Ama Sankalpa” (our resolution), a campaign that aims at providing proper healthcare to pregnant women and infants.
“Rebati’s selfless service comes as an inspiration for all of us. Her dedication to the cause of humanity is really exemplary. Rayagada district administration has made her brand ambassador of ‘Ama Sankalpa’ campaign,” said district collector Guha Poonam Tapas Kumar.
The villagers got shocked when the news broke that Rebati is going to retire on June 30. They broke into tears. Tribals heads in every village organised a farewell meeting in their respective villages in honour of Rebati.
“Now, we feel devastated. For us, she was more than our mother and a deity,” says Nayami Renka, a Saura tribal woman.
Rebati has promised the tribals to keep visiting the Kulsingh gram panchayat and serve them till her last breath. “This is the place where I have spent long 27 years. I feel I was destined to serve these children of God. I will regularly come here and serve the people till my last breath,” she says.