Breaking Social Barriers
From a young community mobilization coordinator in 2008 who was sometimes chased away by the people from her own community in Saharanpur when she went to counsel them on the importance of polio drops, to a team leader in Ghaziabad who now talks about routine immunization (RI), Najma Nikhat has come a long way.
Najma Nikhat had joined as CMC under the Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet), a programme communication network that was established in Uttar Pradesh in 2001 for improving polio vaccination coverage. ""I faced such a tough time when I started working as the neighbours and community members started spreading tales about me saying that I had spent three days in a hotel (for training) which was not considered an honourable thing,ââ she said.
However, her father stood by her all the time encouraging her to go ahead with her work without bothering about the gossip. ""I would go from house to house telling people to administer polio drops to their children but they would not even listen to me and sometimes would chase me out from the house,ââ she said at a function to mark 70 years of UNICEF in India.
Posted in Block Puakra then, Najma recalls how all this would upset her mother and she was worried that no one would marry her. In one year, she could only manage 40% families. Then she started going to congregations and talk about vaccinations from Madrasas. However, the breakthrough came when during one such congregation, where quoted from the holy Koran and then spoke about health, one old woman was so convinced that she handed over her grand child to Najma and told her she was free to administer polio drops!
This was the turning point. After this episode women came out in large numbers with their children and the old woman, Jameela became a champion accompanying Najma during her visit. The result was by 2011 the coverage was cent percent. Jameela is no more now.
Since then, the SMNet has evolved into a team of more than 4,800 community level mobilisers, and has about 500 coordinators at the sub-district, district and regional level, A UNICEF initiative, the main task of SMNet is to ensure that all children in the areas of the deployed community mobilisers are vaccinated against polio in every round.
In 2011, she was promoted and sent to Ghaziabad under the Routine Immunisation Programme. Shaheed Nagar block is again a difficult block with lot of resistance from the community. It took her one year to find CMCs.
""I then approached Jannat Nisha Madrasa and held meetings there where I told them about RI. It is here that I managed to get two girls Rashid and Anjum as CMCs. We had a meeting with fathers and frontline workers on the issue. This was followed by a survey of the households,ââ she said. This was followed by Mothers Meet and a health camp where a large number of people did turn up. She organized meetings and spoke about RI at religious meetings which resulted in zero refusal families for polio.
But she still has a challenge. There still are six families in her jurisdiction who do not bring their children for immunization. ""I am hopeful that three families will come in the next round but I will have to work on the remaining three,ââ Najma said. Once she completes her task on RI, Najmaâwho holds a Masters in Social Work â wants to work on breastfeeding and sanitation as well."