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Sharmili Mallick

Work is worship and if it is in the service of society, it is like virtues of a thousand lifetimes . It is this dedication and determination to serve the people that has made Odisha’s Matilda Kullu stand out as one of the rare gems in the country.

From a nondescript village in the tribal Sundargarh district of Odisha, Kullu now features as one of the most powerful women change makers.

Her selfless pursuit has earned her a place in the coveted Forbes India W-Power 2021 list, which holds some of the most famous personalities like former SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, actress Sanya Malhotra and Rasika Duggal.

45-year-old Matilda is an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) from Gargadbahal village in Baragaon tehsil of Odisha’s Sundargarh district. She has been working as a healthcare worker in the region since the last 15 years.

Matilda’s life teaches how small steps can bring magnificent changes in the world. Her every day starts with the day break and all the household chores like preparing lunch for a family of four (husband and two children) and feeding the cattle. She then visits door-to-door for health screening on her bicycle.

Matilda looks after the health of a total of 964 people of her village and thanks to her efforts, the local people are more than happy as it has brought revolutionary changes in their awareness. When she joined as an Asha in 2005, the residents of Gargadbahal mostly took to black magic when ill and skipped visiting hospitals for treatment. However, Matilda worked on educating people for years and convinced them to take appropriate medical care instead of relying on quacks.

But the change that Matilda managed to fructify did not come easy as it seems. Apart from local people’s serious stigma towards new awareness, Matilda had to bear the brunt of casteism and untouchability during house visits since she belonged to a Scheduled Tribe.

“I have been serving the people in the village since the last 15 years. When I was initially recruited as ASHA worker, I started working forcefully as I had to face lot of criticisms who were superstitious. Later, I developed interest in my work and enjoyed helping people and educating them. The villagers have now slowly shedded off their superstitious attitude,” said the ASHA worker.

Apart from door-to-door visit, Matilda provides medicines, helps expecting mothers to visit hospitals and in their deliveries. Her other regular tasks include antenatal/postnatal check-ups, immunisation, sanitisation, promoting hygiene, administering polio and other vaccines, conducting surveys and so on.

With the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic in 2019, she had to work for additional hours as a Covid-19 warrior. However, with a meagre income of Rs 4,500, she has been struggling to run her household.

Matilda’s husband is a farmer and she has two children who are studying. She also does tailoring work to make ends meet.

Matilda had tested positive for Covid during the second wave of the pandemic and had to rejoin work in just two weeks. “I had to manage both—field work and family during the lockdown. I have two children and sometimes, I used to ignore them for my duty. At a time when people stayed indoors, I used to visit homes to visit houses for health check-ups and educate the villagers about the new virus,” she said.

Prasing Matilda’s efforts, a local of Gargadbahal village said “When any villager suffers from cold and cough, she gives medicines. But in case of serious situation, she herself calls upon ambulance and takes them to hospital.”

Matilda’s daughter said, “She loves helping people in need. Though we are always worried for her as might contract Covid-19 anytime, she is a health worker and it’s her duty.”

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