Char-a-Char

Popularly known as the gateway of western Assam, the historic township of Dhubri is often referred to as the ‘land of rivers’. Being surrounded by the river Brahmaputra and it’s tributary ‘mora’ (dead) Godadhar river by three sides, it is both ecstasy and agony for the dwellers of the land. The peripheries of Dhubri are mostly riverine and the hundreds of tributaries of both the rivers created thousands of braid-bars (locally known as ‘char’) because of meandering nature of these two rivers, especially Brahmaputra. For generations, these braid-bars became the habitats of the underprivileged population of Dhubri.

To reach the habitats at braid-bars to immunise the little dwellers of this land is the real challenge for the front line health workers. Practically no roads exist in these areas and boats are also not available. From the cold chain point, traversing merely a distance of 3-4 kilometres to reach the session sites often takes around 4-5 hours, apart from the return journey after completing the immunisation sessions. The only way to cross these water bodies either by feet or with a makeshift raft made by banana trees, often in very bad shape. Being the land of jute, sometimes the bundle of fresh jute plants floating in the water bodies to decompose become handy along with banana trees to make these rafts. During summer – the extremely humid subtropical climate – with an average temperature of 37-40 degree Celsius with around 90% humidity, makes the situation worse. During monsoon these landforms become inaccessible.

It is mentioned in Padma-Purana that in the bank of Godadhar, Netai Dhubuni – the washer-woman – with her magical power gave back the life of Lakhindar, the husband of Behula. People say that the name Dhubri derived after the name of Netai Dhubuni. Relating to this mythological incidence, it can be said that without creating an illusion but their relentless hard-work, these front line health workers are creating magic by reaching far-flung places of Assam, convincing & mobilising communities and saving thousands of innocent lives from the vaccine-preventable diseases.

 

 

Dhubri-001
The vaccine box in the land of jute.
Dhubri-002
The Golakganj Block Public Health Centre (BPHC) is one of the oldest BPHC in Assam that was established in 1905, the historical year of the partition of Bengal. Since then this iconic & traditional Assam pattern architecture is the place to provide primary health service to the dwellers of Golakganj block of Dhubri.
Dhubri-003
This BPHC is also the home of the cold chain point (CCP) for the vaccine storage. The well maintained CCP in this remotest corner of the country is monitored by Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN).
Dhubri-004
Alternate Vaccine Delivery (AVD) system is the lifeline of vaccine distribution in these remote corners of Assam. Being the riverine landforms, where commuting from one point to other takes time, here comes the real contribution of the AVDs to take the vaccine boxes and distribute them on time. Jalil Sheikh, in his fifties, is a daily wage-earner in the local market of Golakganj. He is also serving as AVD for Golakganj BPHC for the last couple of years. His inclusion in the team became a boon for the ANMs and ASHAs of Golakganj. His inclusion as AVD saves time for vaccine transportation and distribution. Jalil is sincerely & dedicatedly distributing vaccine boxes at the distribution sites since his engagement.“This job helps me to earn both money and respect. It’s true that this particular job helps me to earn some extra money apart from my daily wages from the market, but simultaneously it makes me feel that I am doing something for my society. I now have the basic knowledge of vaccines & vaccine-preventable diseases and that suddenly changed my status in my commune” – Jalil comments.
Dhubri-005
Receiving the vaccine boxes from Jalil, like other ASHAs, Manibala Roy starts her journey with an autorickshaw that will take her only up to a temporary bamboo bridge. There, the other FLWs are waiting for Manibala. Today, their destination will be the primary school at West Mora-Godadhar ‘Char’, where children are waiting for their arrival. The onward journey from this point will be long and tiring. They have to walk for the next couple of hours in the scorching heat & humidity and need to cross several water bodies in this to & fro journey.

Dhubri-006

Dhubri-007
Geologically, these braid-bars or chars born after the ‘death’ of the river Godadhar – a tributary of Brahmaputra. This created innumerable water bodies in between these riverine landforms. The climate and topography make the situation ideal for the cultivation of jute but offers a huge challenge to the FLWs to provide primary health supports, like immunisation, to the dwellers of Mora-Godadhar Char. Walking for hours, perspiring and crossing these multiple water bodies on foot is literally exhausting.

Dhubri-008

Dhubri-009
But every other effort seems to become faded in front of Abaron Bibi. A widow and mother of five children, Abaron is the ASHA of West Mora-Godadhar Char. To reach West Mora-Godadhar Char, one has to cross a couple of water bodies which can not be crossed by foot because of the depth of water. These water bodies have to be crossed with makeshift rafts made with banana trees and jute, often in really bad shape. But no one is there to help for the raft to ride. And here comes Abaron’s contribution apart from her routine job as the ASHA. Since she joined as ASHA five years ago, she became the only rescuer for the rest of the team in this situation. Every time the team comes to visit this side of Golakganj, Abaron is the only person who takes them to the other side by voluntarily accepting the physical challenge to pull the raft manually in neck-deep water. Thoroughly drenched, she joins the team in wet cloths to walk till the session site to do her assigned job as ASHA. On these days, her actual job finishes when she again bring the team back in the same way during their return journey. “This is my village; and if I refuse, who else will do it”, the shy reply came from the less spoken iron lady. And today she does this job while keeping her Roza during Ramadan. The temperature touched 39 degree Celsius in this open landforms with nearly 90% humidity. But yet she is quite happy today because tomorrow there will be a celebration of Eid. Once she will be back home in the evening after finishing her non-assigned duty, she will start preparing some sweets for her children, son-in-law & grandchildren.
Dhubri-010
The journey of Abaron Bibi on a usual session day.
Dhubri-011
These far-flung riverine landforms along with extreme weather conditions, not only challenge anyone’s physical ability, but also examines the teamwork and dedication. Manibala, Abaron and all other female team members create the perfect example of physical & mental ability, teamwork & dedication to conquering these braid-bars of Northeastern India’s mighty male river.
Dhubri-012
Finally, they have reached 2463, West Mora-Godadhar Lower Primary School, where the immunisation session will be taken place today. The teachers are patiently waiting for the team’s arrival, who already brought the children all across the Char of West Mora-Godadhar, apart from the students of the school. Today is the day for Measles & Rubella vaccines.

Dhubri-013

Dhubri-014
Governments come & governments go; even the bureaucrats & government officials got transferred. But the public projects remain for the public benefit, just like the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). And these Front Line Workers (FLW) keep these public projects alive, years after years. For common mass, these FLWs are actual face of the government – of the people, by the people & for the people. Taking the responsibilities on their head accepting all kinds of physical & mental challenges, these FLWs are protecting millions of children from vaccine-preventable diseases & literally contributing to developing the future of the healthy nation.