Geeta Varma has made it a point to boil the drinking water she fetches from a hand pump near her hut in Babrekar Nagar at Malad’s Malvani area. She also covers the food she cooks to protect it from the filth in the narrow lanes of her slum.
“My son, Mithilesh is training to become a bal doctor,” said Varma. “He has taught me about good hygiene and the importance of keeping your surroundings clean.”
Fifteen-year-old Mithilesh enrolled for the bal doctor programme six months ago.
An initiative by Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (Yuva), the programme aims to train children to administer first aid and to handle medical crisis.
They have also been taught how to identify symptoms of different diseases and to encourage people to seek treatment.
Since 2000, the organisation has trained 676 bal doctors from 34 slums across the city.
A fortnight ago, Suraj Kanojia, 15, another bal doctor, realised his mother was suffering from chikungunya and persuaded her to go the hospital.
“She was unwell for a few days, but was unwilling to go to the hospital. From her symptoms I could make out that this was not an ordinary flu,” said Kanojia.
“I have become more aware of my own health and now I also take my parents to the hospital when they are unwell,” said Ravi Gupta, 18, who was part of the first batch of bal doctor trained in the area.
“Many of our young volunteers have understood the importance of hygiene and cleanliness,” said Sumati Belady, a social worker who trains the youngsters.
In order to spread the message, these children are also performing street shows about different diseases in their own locality.
The concept of bal doctors took root when a street boy from Mumbai Central suggested to the NGO workers that they be given a medical kit with basic medicines and first aid so they could treat their friends without delay.
According to programme coordinator Arokia Mary, Yuva had started a health van to give medical services to children in areas where medical facilities were almost non-existent.
“However, due to lack of time and resources, the van could not reach everyone. This is where the bal doctors fill in for us,” said Mary.
“There are so many children in our locality who chew tobacco and smoke cigarettes. Due to this training, my friends and I have never indulged in these things,” said bal doctor Kurban Khan, 18, who now wants to go to college and purse higher education.
“Several of our older children want to pursue higher studies in the medical field. This programme has contributed significantly in boosting their confidence,” said Mary, adding that Yuva now wants to take this concept to schools.