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28 Feb 2020

Community Hero - Mani's Courage to Save a Life

Nothing could have prepared Mani for what she was about to see when she entered Rahul's* home. There he lay, unable to move or even acknowledge her presence. His parents did not know what to do. It was clear to her that he was severely malnourished. Mani knew that if immediate action was not taken, he would die. Rahul was just two years old.

Mani had only been working as a Balsakhi for Seva Mandir for 6 months. She had previously been studying a nursing and teaching course for two years in university and had decided to commit herself to helping others, so she returned to her remote, rural community.

‘Most Balsakhis work in remote areas where government healthcare workers are not available.' Explains Divya Singh, a programme associate in the Women and Early Childcare Department of Seva Mandir, ‘They are making sure that people in their communities are aware about malnutrition and how devastating it can be. They are also breaking down barriers of taboo topics such as menstruation or contraception.'

In rural and tribal communities, there is limited knowledge and understanding of proper healthcare practices. Unqualified ‘doctors' (commonly known as quacks), prevalent in rural areas, take full advantage of this lack of knowledge. They conduct un-scientific procedures, prescribe incorrect treatment, and even, in some cases, perform animal scarifies as a method of healing. Of course, all of this comes at a substantial price, often thousands of rupees - a huge amount for most rural and tribal families. A 2016 report by the WHO stated that 57.3% of those practicing allopathic medicine in India do not have any medical qualifications.

Rahul's parents took him to one of these local ‘quacks' in a desperate attempt to health him. The quack proposed that if they sacrifice a chicken, he will be healed. Rahul's parents, desperate for him to be healed, handed over the money.

Of course, nothing changed, and Rahul continued to get worse.

They returned home, not knowing what to do next. The availability and accessibility of quality healthcare services in rural communities is poor, which is partly responsible for catalysing a misunderstanding and lack of knowledge in proper healthcare practices. Thus, the role of the Balsakhis in these communities is crucial.

Rahul's mother would try to feed him, but every attempt failed - he was even too weak to eat, which only worsened his health.

Balsakhis work within the community they are from - they know the local contexts, customs, and people. This helps them work more efficiently and effectively. Mani works with 50 families, one of which is Rahul's.

‘When I met Rahul, he was so weak that he couldn't talk, walk, or even just sit down', Mani shares. ‘I knew I had to do all I could to help him.'

Mani knew immediately that he would need to be treated at the Government's Malnutrition Treatment Centre (MTC - located in a government run hospital) but his father would not let him leave. Mani put all of her efforts into persuading him but was unable to change his mind - Rahul would not be going to the MTC.

Luckily, in their village, a malnutrition treatment camp had been set-up by the district level government. Rahul's father agreed for him to be taken by his mother to the camp as it was in their village. When Rahul arrived, the nurses were shocked at his condition. There was nothing they could do for him at the camp - he had to be referred to the MTC straightaway or he could die. An ambulance was available at the camp to transport any referrals to the MTC. Rahul's mother agreed and, along with Mani, they got into the ambulance.

Rahul's father heard what was happening. He managed to chase down the ambulance and stop it a few kilometres from their village. He blocked it, becoming abusive and refusing to let it pass unless Rahul was taken off. Everyone was trying to calm him down and pleading with him to let them through so they could help his son. He wouldn't listen to them. Mani had a senior local official's mobile number. She called him to help resolve the situation. With every passing minute, Rahul was getting more and more unwell. A number of state officials came to their location, deep in the remote countryside, and managed to subdue Rahul's father enough to let the ambulance through.

Rahul, his mother, and Mani arrived at the hospital. He was so weak that the doctors gave him a blood transfusion. His mother and Mani stayed by his side, thankful that he was now receiving proper medical treatment. As Rahul's family live below the poverty line, the government provide his family with INR 100 per day that they are in the hospital to cover any lost earnings, along with free food and accommodation in the hospital.

Then Mani's phone began to ring. Rahul's father was on the other side, accusing Mani of snatching his son against his will. He said that he was on his way to the hospital to take Rahul back to their home. Mani tried to explain to him that if Rahul did not stay in the hospital, he would not recover, but it fell on deaf ears.

Mani took steps to ensure that Rahul would not leave until he had recovered and contacted Seva Mandir staff to help her, which they did, taking turns to stay with the mother and her son in the hospital. Rahul had already begun to show signs of recovery; he had put on weight and he was communicating and even walking, though he still had a long way to go.

A few days later, Rahul's father arrived. He waited until Rahul and the mother were alone and discharged his son from the hospital. Thankfully, Rahul had made significant progress and had recovered so much that he was nearly out of the malnutrition category all together.

Mani tells us that - ‘People trust me now. They approach me for all types of health problems! Even Rahul's family treat me well now because their son is now recovering.'

Mani, even after all of the abuse she had received from Rahul's father, returned to their home to check on Rahul. She was anxious, not knowing what to expect. When she arrived, Rahul was running about, full of energy. His father approached Mani - and apologised. When he saw how healthy Rahul had become, he realised that Mani had saved his son's life.

‘I'm so happy that Rahul is getting better', Mani says with glee. ‘To see him recover like this - it just motivates me to continue doing my job and to reach more children in need.'


Mani has only been a Balsakhi since July of 2019, but her dedication and instinct, coupled with her training and knowledge, had saved Rahul's life. Now, when she walks around her community, visiting the various families that she is responsible for, people listen. She, along with all of Seva Mandir's Balsakhis are improving the understanding of proper healthcare practices amongst these rural communities.

She is a #CommunityHero.


*name changed to protect his identity


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