Published: 13th July 2021
This school teacher is spreading vaccination awareness at weddings and funerals in tribal Maharashtra. Here's how
The Adivasi villages in Gujarat received vaccines first but due to various discrepancies, a few people succumbed right after vaccination. This caused fear and apprehension
While medical experts around the world are advocating for vaccines, a large chunk of the population is still not convinced and the major reasons are fake news and lack of understanding of the overall concept of vaccination. That's why we need people like Ratan Chaudhari. A teacher at the Zilla Parishad School in Surgana District in Maharashtra, Ratan has been campaigning and advocating for vaccination in the tribal areas of Maharashtra. But he does not go door-to-door. He rather targets events like weddings and funerals where people from neighbouring villages are present as well. He believes that this helps spread the word.
When vaccinations started last year, the Adivasi villages in Gujarat received them first but due to various discrepancies, a few people succumbed following the vaccination. This caused widespread fear among the people. "This area of Maharashtra is very close to the Gujarat border. It is the same tribe on both sides. Many of them have relatives on the other side of the state border. The word spread that vaccines kill," said Ratan. "People used to flee to the jungle or to their farms when the medical officers came. That's when I got vaccinated and started spreading the word that it is completely safe. The major problem with people from the cities coming here to spread awareness was that they would use terms like 'vaccination' and 'virus' that are alien to the tribals. They speak Dangi on both sides of the border. I started to spread awareness in their local language and that put them at ease," he added.
Ratan speaking at a funeral (Pic: Sourced)
The school teacher who took it upon himself to spread the word chose gatherings like weddings and even funerals to engage people in these conversations. "I go to weddings, bless the couple and then start discussing life in general with the people. I gradually come to the topic of vaccination. All of them know me and they are comfortable talking to me. I tell them that not only have I gotten vaccinated but so has my family. I answer all their questions, distribute masks and convince them to go get jabbed," added the teacher who teaches students of Class VIII. "When these people from neighbouring villages get back home, they talk about how a teacher at the wedding or the funeral was talking about getting vaccinated and this spreads the word faster," he said.
Ratan telling tribal villagers about vaccination (Pic: Sourced)
Ratan has not only spread awareness but has also helped raise Rs 18 lakh for COVID relief. "With that we have provided oxygen beds for the local hospital, refrigerators and infrastructure for storing the vaccines at PHCs, and used the rest for relief work," he added. His initiatives have shown results. "Now, people don't run away when medical officers come to vaccinate. In fact, they would call them and get the jab," he said but believes that his work is not done till everyone in the area is vaccinated.