Series: The unconventional Women of SSMI
The social care system in India is very poorly understood. Most of us fail to recognize elements of it that are mentally and emotionally exhausting. Being a social worker means being at the forefront of overwhelmingly large problems that our society is plagued with – unemployment, poverty, access to quality healthcare, prostitution, gender discrimination, to name a few. In a candid conversation, 51-year-old Vijayluxmi Bharadwaj of SSMI reflects on her 25 years of journey in a social care system. She talks about the challenges, life lessons, and how she has stayed motivated all these years to help those in need.
“My inclination toward the betterment of society started early. The desire to uplift at-risk people, especially women was insatiable. After getting married, we shifted to a rural area where gender inequalities were significant. With the encouragement of my husband, I joined an NGO as a project officer. In a career spanning 25 years, I have worked with several institutions such as Child Survival India, New Delhi Municipal Council Polytechnique, Modicare Foundation. During my time with Modicare, I frequently visited SSMI to monitor their GRC project.
In 2010, I got to know SSMI is looking for a coordinator for their Vision for All funded community eye care project. I applied and got selected. As part of the job, we set up camps to screen the vulnerable older population for eye-related ailments. Apart from that, we also educate them on the importance of eye health and preventive measures to delay age-related issues. After being actively involved in the project, I have realized that visual impairment is particularly prevalent amongst marginalized communities because they don’t have much awareness or access to the right healthcare facilities. A lot of times, they are neglected by the family members.
One of the instances that I vividly remember is, we had put up an eye-care camp at the Bakkarwala village, Delhi. My colleague was absent that day, so the responsibility of getting the patient admitted fell upon me. While I was returning from the admission center, a few older women were sitting and chatting. I casually asked them to go to their respective beds and not to call their family members to avoid the place from getting crowded. One of the Amma’s called me and said, “Do you think our family members will come and see us? You are kind enough to get our eyes checked. Otherwise, who needs us?”
In my decades of service as a social worker, I have overcome several challenges, but even today, the struggle to keep my emotions aside and think objectively continues. I do get overwhelmed. For instance, it’s disturbing to see the challenging circumstances female sex workers who operate out of brothels or homes go through. Poverty and violence push them into this business, and despite all their work, they don’t earn anything, have any security, or have access to proper healthcare.
When I left NDMC Polytechnique as an HIV/AIDS counselor, nearly 7000 HIV-positive people were in touch with me. It was challenging to work with the government or maintain a long association with them, given how crippled the system is. So, I brought this project to SSMI. We put up camps for Female Sex Workers (FSW), sent referral linkages to hospitals, got their health screening done under FSW programs funded by the Delhi State Control Society. The problem is because of the stereotypes, no one wants to see them empathetically, making life very difficult for them, but I have always been hopeful that if we continue to do our jobs sincerely, things will change.
Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute has offered me more than I could have imagined. They believed in me, valued what I brought to the table, and together we worked on a broad spectrum of ideas that lead to social impact. I also got to run a pilot study for the United Nations Development Programme Funded Cash Transfer schemes. Currently, I am handling Women and Child Development’s new project Saheli Samanvay Kendra, where my role demands the identification of skills in community women and how we can hone them and help them reach the entrepreneurs of India.
Women who come from marginalized communities have so much caliber. But they need awareness, support, encouragement, training, and resources to come out of their shells. My innate wish is to help them reach their highest potential.”
(Content Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)