• Manipur Covid Stories

A Super Woman Who Wears Masks And Makes Them As Well

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

A leader. A health worker. A counsellor. A trainer. An innovator. A homemaker. A nurse... and a Corona Warrior, Helena Takhellambam, a Community Health Officer of Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Center (AB-HWC) Phubala dons many hats. This nurse not only wears a mask but is also making masks for her entire community. Located in the rural district Bishnupur of the north-eastern state of Manipur, Helena is working as a Community Health Officer in her AB-HWC since January 2019. Earlier, she worked as a staff nurse for ten years and it was her interest to work for the community that motivated her to undertake the six-month training to become a Community Health Officer.

“As a staff nurse, my work was restricted largely to hospital work, but as a Community Health Officer I got a great opportunity to work closer to the community and visibly see the change. It is also very rewarding when people whom you serve appreciate your work and service,” says Helena proudly.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, Helena took a pro-active role in educating her

community about the preventive measures. Before the nationwide lockdowns were announced and the first positive case was recorded in Manipur, Helena with her team

actively conducted hand washing demonstrations, counselling sessions on respiratory hygiene and social distancing measures. She along with a few other CHOs also took the initiative to go to the local market areas and create awareness. She also distributed

soaps to the people which she purchased using the funds available with her.

Once the lockdowns were announced, she diligently conducted home visits to ensure the community was aware of the preventive measures. During these visits, she widely advocated the use of masks and that’s when she realized that many people from the community could not afford to buy a mask.

As people from rural areas like Helena’s village belong to a lower economic group they were unable to purchase masks which were not only highly-priced but also scarce due to the increase in demand. That’s when Helena decided to personally stitch cloth masks for her community. For a population of 4,764 which her AB-HWC caters to, Helena has made around 3500 masks till date and still continues to make them for her community members and health workers. For making these masks, she utilized her incentive which she received for her work to purchase the cloth and raw-materials to make the masks.

On enquiring about how she had the time to make these masks, she laughs it off saying that it is the least that she could do to protect her people! And that’s not just all. As part of her professional duties, this super-energetic nurse had to ensure that essential health services are provided at her AB-HWC, conduct home visits to provide palliative care services and ensure regular follow up of people who were home-quarantined.

She's also conducting training for front line health workers to pass on the knowledge that she has received on the pandemic. In addition to all this, she was also assigned quarantine duty every alternate week at the government quarantine facility where she had to screen and monitor people who had travelled back to the state and were suspected of having COVID-19. And all this was only on the official front!

As is the case with many families, COVID-19 brought on additional responsibilities in the home front. Helena had to ensure that her house was taken care of which included cooking meals for her family, cleaning and taking care of her two young children and their school work. And in between all this, Helena finds time to stitch masks for her community! This only speaks volumes of her commitment and the drive that she brings to her work and to save lives.

“It’s my job and it’s for my people so why willI I not find time to help them? I am also very thankful to NISHTHA team who have trained me and always supported me at any point on time. I know for sure that they are just a phone call away and they help me a lot by guiding me,” says Helena.

Helena attributes her capacities and skills to perform her duties to the training that she underwent under the US Agency for International Development’s NISHTHA: Transforming

Comprehensive Healthcare in India project, implemented by Jhpiego. NISHTHA is working closely with the state government of Manipur and 11 other state governments to build the capacities of CHOs like Helena through the six-month certificate course in community health and providing technical assistance for strengthening comprehensive primary healthcare.

NISHTHA is also supporting the states in COVID-19 response by training all the CHOs to equip them to respond safely and effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic and developing risk communication materials for community engagement.

The most difficult of times can bring the best out of human beings and Helena Takhellambam is one such example and among the millions of Corona Warriors across

the world who are risking their lives every day to fight this pandemic. She is a superwoman who is not only wearing a mask but also the one making them!

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