“I never thought that I could become a nurse and comfort patients. I had once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but I never stood a chance with my low marks. I am happy that I can help patients as a nurse”– a student from Nurse-Aid Course at SNEHA, who is successfully employed in a nursing home who passed out in 2013
From being a high school drop-out to becoming a nurse-aid is a huge high for the girls who pass out of Nurse Aid School at SNEHA. For the girls, typically from the poorest of families in Mumbai’s slums, this opportunity builds their self esteem and also boosts their position in society where they are treated with more respect.
Tapping into the growing demand of nurses in Mumbai’s health care sector, SNEHA started the Swasthyasevika programme in 2004 to train school dropouts to become nurse-aids. The programme was an important means of providing economic opportunity for these adolescent girls. The programme has trained over 300 nurse-aids over the years and most of these girls are employed. The programme is run in three centres of Mumbai including Santacruz, Govandi, and Kandivali.
“This programme gives these girls a tremendous psychological boost. Their entire body language changes. They dare to dream big. Some of my girls are doing very well for themselves. Some are even trying to complete their studies,” said Shibani Bagchi who runs the programme.
The SNEHA team conducts several mobilisation programmes in several slums of Mumbai to enroll adolescent girls and women in the course. The SNEHA staffers go door to door and try convince parents and girls to do the course. Many parents do not see the point of sending their girls for a whole year and feel it is a “waste of time”. Also, many families are conservative.
“Sometimes girls really want to enroll, but their families are against it. I recall a case where the brother was taking care of the sister who wanted to study with us. I told the brother that he may think that marrying off his sister is good enough for his sister. But god forbid, she gets into trouble in her marriage, or her husband is not able to earn, what will she do?,”said Bagchi. The brother not only sent his sister, but also sent several other girls in the family for the course.
Apart from lessons on anatomy, and several aspects of medicine and nursing, the course also includes computer training and English speaking classes. The course also includes practical training and an internship at a nursing home where the girls earn a stipend. Most of the girls manage to get a job with nursing homes in Mumbai after the course.
Becoming a nurse is also a huge boost for the social status of the girl. Take the case of Sunita (name changed) who was allowed to go for this course only after three years of persuading her family. She was married when she was just 15 years old.
After the course, almost giddy with excitement at the prospect of work, she writes, “When I become a nurse, I will get up early everyday and finish the household work and go to the hospital. I love wearing the nurse’s clothes, I love being called a nurse, I will do my work diligently. when I get the monthly salary, I will contribute to my household. My relatives will love me.”
For the students who do not end up working, the course teaches them basic science and understanding of the nutrition, hygiene among other things that can help them keep their family healthy.
“I feel if we change the mindset of one girl, it has a ripple effect on the entire family,”said Bagchi.