Patna, Oct. 23: For eight years, Martha Dodarai has been walking 20 kilometres, sometimes through treacherous terrain, to reach a child for polio vaccination. The arduous journey that has become a mission to make Bihar a state free of polio will be rewarded at a gala event organised by the United Nations Foundation in New York next month.
Dodarai, 43, would be representing frontline polio workers from around the world who will be honoured for their commitment to vaccinating those who live with the threat of contracting the disease. The feisty lady from Darbhanga will be feted at the Global Leadership Awards Dinner to be held at the Gotham Hall in New York on November 6.
Dodarai, who grew up in Latehar (now in Jharkhand), walks 20km everyday to reach her workplace at Tilakpur, the last village of Darbhanga, because there is no transportation in her village of Kusheswar Asthan. The journey entails crossing a river — sometimes she has to row a boat herself when she doesn’t find a boatman. From dense jungles to rivers, Dodarai, an auxiliary nurse midwife associated with the Kusheshwar Asthan Primary Health Centre, has to cross many hurdles on her way but she works tirelessly even in these extreme conditions to ensure each and every child receives protection from polio.
Health workers like Dodarai have proved instrumental in achieving the goal of the polio eradication programme. The World Health Organization (WHO) ticked off India from the list of polio countries in 2012 with the last case being reported from Howrah district of West Bengal on January 13, 2011.
The last polio case in Bihar was reported from East Champaran district in September 2010. Bihar is home to around 2 crore children in the age group of 0 to 5 years who are administered polio drops during special rounds. According to a WHO surveillance report, the number of children who missed out on last year’s pulse polio drive was 0.38, which is considered to be very good.
“People here don’t like women to go out for work and those who don’t follow this rule are highly criticised. Martha Dodarai crossed every barrier to do her job,” said Bhagwan Das, medical officer in charge of the Kusheshwar Asthan health centre.
Madhup Bajpai, regional team leader, WHO, who looks after the polio eradication programme in the state, confirmed that Dodarai would be travelling to New York to receive the award. “The government of India selected top 40 health workers and finally Martha Dodarai was selected. This award is not only Martha Dodarai’s achievement, but also that of all health workers engaged in the polio eradication programme in the world. Martha is actually representing health workers from across the world who are engaged in the polio eradication programme. As all health workers couldn’t be called to New York, Martha would represent all of them,” he said.
Dodarai told The Telegraph that she was on cloud nine after hearing the news. “I am happy and at the same time worried because this will be the first time I will board a flight. I am becoming nervous just by thinking what will happen when I reach New York. Everyone will speak in English there. How would I understand? My seniors have assured me there will be a person accompanying me at the event to help me out,” said Dodarai, who has passed her matriculation.
What inspired her to take up this mission? “When I was growing up in Chhecha village in Latehar (Jharkhand) in the eighties, there was a six-year-old girl who was afflicted with polio. I was 12 then, but this had a huge impact on me. The child was the only one in the village who was suffering from polio. I decided then I would make it my life’s mission to free children of this scourge,” said Dodarai.
Dodarai wakes up at 3am everyday so that she can head out for her workplace at 4am. “It takes me three hours to reach Tilakpur. I also have to juggle between Kusheshwar Ashthan and Arai, also 20km away in the opposite direction. While passing through jungles during my journey, I do get scared at times,” Dodarai says with a smile.
Darbhanga civil surgeon Uday Kumar Choudhary said Dodarai deserves the UN Foundation award. “She worked hard in even adverse conditions. Many of her co-workers were unwilling to go to distant places, but Dodarai never objected,” he said.
The UN Foundation, created in 1998 as a public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner, builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach.
Also to be awarded this year is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student who was shot by the Taliban when returning home from school on October 9, 2012. She will receive the Champion for Global Change Award for her role as a global activist in advocating for educating and empowering girls worldwide.
A citation by UN Association-USA executive director Patrick Madden on the Foundation’s website says: “The honorees at this year’s dinner are connected by courage,” said Madden. “From one girl’s quest to ensure equal opportunity for girls’ education around the world, to polio workers who visit the world’s most dangerous areas to prevent disease, the individuals and organizations being honored demonstrate how the UN’s mission and work is inspirational to people of all ages.”