Sitting at the porch of her home in Coonoor’s Kattery Park area, Vennila Vadivelu’s face beams with pride as she talks about receiving the Covid Women Warriors award.

“I only did my job. I was surprised when they conferred this award on me, ”says the 40-year-old, who has been working with the Pudukadu Anganwadi for the last four years.

Venilla was awarded the ‘Covid Women Warriors, The Real Heroes’ award by the National Commission for Women on January 31, 2021, for her exceptional work during the pandemic.

After the Center announced a nationwide lockdown in March 2020, hundreds of migrants and tribals were stuck in the hilly district of Nilgiris without any access to food. It is during this time that Anganwadi, ASHA and healthcare workers worked round-the-clock to ensure no one sleeps on an empty stomach.

Vennila recalls how she had to travel through dense forests to deliver food and ration to migrant workers.

“My colleagues and I walked every two days to Kurumba and Irula tribal hamlets and traveled to Kil Singara estate thrice a month where migrant workers from Jharkhand live,” Vennila says. “We delivered rice, lentils, eggs, and health mix powder in kilos to migrant workers and tribals inside forests.”

She says it was easy to deliver rations to hamlets since they were in proximity, but delivering rations to migrants in Kil Singara, located 12 kilometers away from the Anganwadi, was not an easy task. This is because “we had to walk through the dense forest and wildlife. I saw elephants, leopards, bears, and other wild animals while walking on those tracks. It was scary, but, thankfully, nothing happened to me. “

Vennila also says that due to the lockdown they had to wait for at least an hour every day before they could get a bus to reach the Anganwadi center. “I requested strangers to give me a lift to reach Pudukadu. During the peak of the Covid wave, returning home before dark became a rare occasion, ”she says.

Vennila was also in charge of the community kitchen operated by the district administration at her Anganwadi to deliver food to migrants. Later the community kitchen was operated by NGO Astitva. However, Anganwadi workers helped the NGO for the next few months.

“Pudukadu community kitchen was a first-of-its-kind in the district under the Nilgiris administration and I was in charge of it,” she proudly says.

“The program started last (2020) June and we delivered cooked food to them (migrants) also. We brought the food we prepared to our community kitchen and served them. Delivering dry ration and groceries was easier than cooked food. We had to carry the utensils back and forth. But don’t think this is all about the food items only. “

Vennila also visited kids at the Anganwadi center and delivered eggs and ration to their families.

“Before the state government opened schools for students in classes 9-12, there were more than 40 students from Irula and Kurumba who were attending computer classes and learning communication skills in Pudukadu Anganwadi. Vennila assured that the kids got everything. Her work here is really appreciable ”says Judy, a teacher at the NGO.

Vennila’s work, however, wasn’t just confined to delivering food to migrants. As an Anganwadi worker, she was also responsible for recording the weight of new-borns, checking maternal mortality ratio, and providing ante-natal and postnatal services to pregnant and lactating women.

“We carried a weighing machine with us to measure the weight of babies, pregnant women, and feeding mothers. It was quite a tough time, but we are here to serve the people, so I enjoyed the work I did for them, ”she says, adding that her family supported her.

Along with ASHA and healthcare workers, Anganwadi workers from Nilgiris also conducted vaccine awareness programs in tribal hamlets. According to official data, there are 486 Anganwadis in the Nilgiris district. Of these, 105 are in Coonoor.

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