On the Threshold of Change

 
As long as there is a flame of learning there is a flicker of hope. A young mother-to-be brims with hope, as she knows that the future of her child as well as hers looks bright. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

As long as there is a flame of learning there is a flicker of hope. A young mother-to-be brims with hope, as she knows that the future of her child as well as hers looks bright. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

Sudharak Olwe narrates the revolution against maternal mortality that he witnessed in Jharkand.

This story was originally published in October 2012.

"During my interaction with the villagers, I realised that they have faith in new methods—especially the ‘delivery kit’."—Sudharak Olwe

“During my interaction with the villagers, I realised that they have faith in new methods—especially the ‘delivery kit’.”—Sudharak Olwe

Bars of soap, freshly unwrapped razor blades, large plastic sheets—monumental change can be concealed in the most mundane objects. In the poverty-stricken and tradition-bound tribal villages of Jharkhand, East India, they represent the increasing importance of maternal and newborn health.
During my interaction with the villagers, I realised that they have faith in new methods—especially the ‘delivery kit’. Mid-wives now wash their hands with soap before assisting at birth. Instead of using sickles to cut the umbilical cord, they use a new razor blade.
Many have stopped applying goat dung on the baby’s cord stump, as they now know that this could result in infection. Parents deliver their baby on a sterile plastic sheet rather than on the cold, dirty floor. Once a taboo, cuddling and immediate breastfeeding of the nutritious ‘first milk’, are now recognised as beneficial to the newborn. They are also maintaining a healthier diet, and saving up money for regular medical check-ups.
Despite facing ridicule, resistance and often outright opposition from older family members, these people are rising to take charge of their well-being as well as that of their offspring. Even if they do not realise it as yet, the impact of their actions will certainly be positive and far-reaching.

Daaee Junga Hembrom holds up the fresh blade and twine that made cutting the umbilical cord so much easier and safer than traditional implements. New mother Somwari Hembrom is delighted with the feeling of being in control of her destiny that a simple medical delivery kit gives her. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

Daaee Junga Hembrom holds up the fresh blade and twine that made cutting the umbilical cord so much easier and safer than traditional implements. New mother Somwari Hembrom is delighted with the feeling of being in control of her destiny that a simple medical delivery kit gives her. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

If You Would Like to Cover a Social Cause

  • Thoroughly research on the customs, traditions, rituals and beliefs of the region.
  • Get acquainted with the area and its people. The more they are at ease with your presence, the easier it will be for you to communicate with them.
  • Always treat the people with respect. Never exploit their hospitality or take advantage of them for any purpose.
  • Be yourself and be natural. The photographer should never be bigger than the subject.
  • If possible, try to get involved in their activities, but not so much that you become an intruder.
In Kotuwa, daaee Gori Honga examines Goroti Gagrai’s tummy to ensure everything is alright as it should be. The daee gives the mother-to-be a lot of support, visiting her often during pregnancy and after too. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

In Kotuwa, daaee Gori Honga examines Goroti Gagrai’s tummy to ensure everything is alright as it should be. The daee gives the mother-to-be a lot of support, visiting her often during pregnancy and after too. Photograph/Sudharak Olwe

About Sudharak Olwe

Sudharak Olwe is a documentary photographer and a photojournalist. He is currently associated with Bombay Times. This photo story was featured in the latest issue of World Press Photo: New Stories (2008).

Tags: better photography, health of tribals in india, Health practices amongst tribals of India, India and healthcare practices, Jharkhand, march 2009, Photofeature, Photographing tribals in India, Sudharak Olwe, the state of tribal mothers in India, tribal villages in east india and healthcare, tribals of Jharkhand, villages of East India