My trip to Swasthya Swaraj : New Year Eve Celebrations

On my first day at Swasthya Swaraj, I got up at 5:30 am and went for a morning walk. Whenever I am on travel, my first priority is to find out a place to exercise and as God would have it, I not only found a huge stadium 5 minutes walk from where I was staying but also a “desi-gym” it housed. The dumbbells and weights were of rusted iron and big stones, the machines I had never seen before but elegant and uber-unique in their own ways. Exactly, my kind of place. I was very happy to find this gym and the stadium – LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI STADIUM, BHAWANIPATNA, KALAHANDI.

Later on at 9am I met Sister Aquinas. She gave me one of the warmest, most loving hugs I have ever come across- she snuggled me close to her with a loving force. That was when I realized what it really means to hug someone and have been practicing since. The team of Swasthya Swaraj and I started off for Kaniguma at around 10am and reached there at 12 in the afternoon. The scenic beauty outside was breathtaking, forest everywhere and small streams sidelined with boulders reminded of all the times I have planned treks just to experience them. And here they were lying in their plain innocence, raw and wild beauty but with grace still intact. At Kaniguma I met the staff and students associated with Swasthya Swaraj. Swasthya Swaraj has started a diploma course in community health for tribal girls so these were the 6 students I met in addition to its huge staff of swasthya sathis, field animators, ANMs, lab-technicians etc. Since it was a day of the celebration feast was also getting cooked in the open. I could spot water flowing just 200m from the place and went there with my friend. And what a pleasure that was. I threw my shoes and socks away and went in water: running, cold, clean water. I even drank from that spring and spent some 15 minutes there. This place is still etched in my memory.

Later on games began. We played lots of games : like jumping and trying to reach out for the candies tied above on a rope while both our hands tied backwards, blindfolding games, musical chairs, passing the parcel, tug-of-war and the tribal girls also performed dance. I got to see the tribal dance closely, even though what I saw was limited but that rhythm, symphony and pattern in which the girls danced in a round circle felt nothing short of some mathematical function contracting and expanding with immense grace and perfect periodicity.

A game in which the person is blind-folded and is supposed to hit the vessel with the stick. 

After the games, we had food – I mostly ate rice and little dalma. After the lunch, prize distribution ceremony was held and then again some games including the dance performances. It was a colorful, vibrant and energetic event interspersed with so much happiness in all the surrounding hearts and also allowed me opportunity to carve new friendships.

During the onward journey and often time-to-time Sister Aquinas would tell me about philosophy of tribals and their way of living in a community. I got to know that for Tribal people, “jal-jameen-jungle” (water-land-forest) are the things they worship for they believe that that is what sustains them. Their philosophy is to take that which is needed and not to exploit the nature. I wondered when was the last time I thought about being responsible towards nature to this extent- virtually never. Of course, there are challenges – network connectivity, access to academic resources is severely limited. But the village has a health center now where staff is well-equipped and trained to handle any sort of emergency of health case and save the villagers anxiety and prevent them from lethal consequences. Sister Aquinas who is a doctor herself carries out OPD regularly in the 76 programme villages that Swasthya Swaraj has adopted. People who come to clinics are given money for attending clinics and also provided grains. TB, malaria and severe-acute-malnutrition are major health concerns and level of education makes me feel fortunate and disappointed at the same time. Certainly, we have got so much in our life so easily that we almost live in a closeted world of luxuries and comforts and when we move out to area outside of our cocoons we wonder, “Is this for real? Does this really exist? How is this possible?”. You realize that truth is stranger than fiction and harder to believe.

Suveschcha, Me and Sangeeta (Left to Right)

When I come to places like these I often think about my father and mother. It would have taken such huge struggle and immense hard work for them to get out of village, envision a dream and then work towards that dream despite financial hardships and prolonged periods of despair. Clearly, I do not know what gem they are and clearly I am not mindful of all I have received.

Day 1, as much fun-filled it was, it was also revelatory in many ways, mostly due to the short real life stories Sister Aquinas would narrate from her experience of working in the area. My first day of the trip was eventful, I met many new people, made some friends, played many games, laughed a lot more, got huge time to spend in raw nature and that was the way we all welcomed the new beginnings.

This would not have been possible without support from Swasthya Swaraj Sansthan, hence I thank Sister Aquinas and her team for allowing me to visit SSS.

Watch below 5 minute video capturing the Day 1 at Swasthya Swaraj.


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