Every time Saika travels for work she has to ensure a hundred different things at home are in place first, as she leaves her toddler son behind in the care of her mother-in-law. The few days she spends away from her son, she makes it count by making a difference in the lives of people living with HIV. Saika works as a monitoring & evaluation officer with the National Coalition of People Living With HIV in India, a partner of Alliance India in implementing HIV Care and Support programme. Saika is based in Kolkota and provides M&E support the programme in West Bengal and Jharkhand.
Saika has always been a working woman, it didn’t change after her marriage or after having a child. Her biggest inspiration is her Ammi (mom) who raised Saika and her three siblings as a single mother. “Ammi may have been an illiterate woman but she had a progressive mindset. She took great pride in working. When we were young, she used to work in a factory, later my uncle gave her some financial assistance to start a small pan shop”, says Saika.
Her Ammi provided for the children but putting them through school came with a lot of challenges. Saika being the oldest one was the first one to go to school with sponsorship provided by her local school. Her mother always reminded Saika to be grateful for the privilege of receiving an education. Saika started teaching underprivileged children when she was in class five as a gesture of being grateful for what she had that many other children didn’t. “My Ammi said, no one gets everything. If we have something, we should share it”, recalls Saika.
Saika began giving extra classes to children who had difficulty with certain subjects and earned a small income that helped her support the school feels of her siblings. “In class ten, when I couldn’t afford to pay for my fees, my principal helped me. That day, I knew the value of a helping hand. Saika wanted to become a teacher, however, due to a lack of career guidance and finances for the specialised course, she couldn’t pursue her passion. She began working part-time with NGOs while completing her degree in Masters in Social Work. Ever since she completed her education, she has been working in the development sector. She may not be teaching from textbooks here but she is no less than a teacher or a guide to communities she works with.
Today, Saika’s family is economically in a much better place. However, the family never forgets how in their toughest and darkest moments, it was the helping hand of a few gracious people that saved them. This is why Saika and her family members have been supporting seven poor families who lost their homes and everything else due to a cyclone disaster in 2002. “We have helped them avail relief aids to rebuild their homes, supported the education of children and sponsored four marriage functions in these families,” says Saika feeling proud of how far these families have come since the cyclone battered their homes.
Since 2017, Saika has been working with people living with HIV and has seen their challenges and hardships very closely. “Men, women, and children living with HIV often face acute discrimination from family, friends and society. They are looked down upon as unclean or someone who carries a deadly virus. The rejection and alienation they face on daily basis must hurt deeply”, says she. When HIV positive people meet with Saika, they are naturally drawn to her warm and empathetic nature. Saika also voluntarily steps up as a friend, counsellor and guide. In her, the community finds a supporter and champion of their cause which they cherish very much. She has formed very close bonds with many people from the community that they even invite her to their family gatherings. “If my smile or kind words can bring them slightest of relief I am happy to give them my attention”, she adds, “Ammi taught us that it is not always monetary help, sometimes kind and positive words are all it takes to make a difference”. These are values that drive and motivate Saika even today. As a monitoring and evaluation officer, she brings much more than her professional skills to the team. She brings the heart and passion to help and empower those who are marginalised, especially people living with HIV. She hopes to raise her son with the same values that her mother raised her – to always have a grateful attitude and be willing to care and share.
– Written by Tara Rana, Communication Officer, Alliance India
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