Chhoti si Asha: This Delhi-based doctor has changed the lives of 500,000 slum dwellers for the better with a kind heart and steady nerves

Slum dwellers live a hard life every day. With limited access to proper healthcare, education, and hygiene, they suffer in silence. Although there are active NGOs to help these people, yet sometimes their voices remain unheard. However, one woman decided to make a change and today, over 500,000 slum dwellers have gotten a shot at a better life, all thanks to Dr. Kiran Martin.

Back in 1988, when Delhi was being devoured by cholera, Kiran visited a slum and couldn’t believe what she saw: “When I first entered the slum, I was shocked. I had never seen a slum from inside before. There was not even a proper way to enter. There were mountains of stinking garbage. The children were playing with the excrement, people were defecating in the open. There was so much illness there and immediate help was required. This is when I immediately started my work under a tree to help the cholera patients.”

Credit: Asha India

Kiran set up a small clinic within the slum and began to treat patients. Soon, she was joined by other like-minded people who came forward to help improve the condition of Delhi slums. She recognized the opportunity to take things up a notch – she founded the Asha Society.

Initially, the residents weren’t really thrilled about her intervention. Bringing about a change in a male dominated scenario wasn’t easy. Kiran had to confront many challenges before her approach finally saw the light of the day: “Dealing with the men was very challenging. So far men were the ones who ruled. Women didn’t have any voice. It was difficult for men to see the shift in power. Also, it was hard for them to think of an outsider coming to their slums for development. They protested, deflated my car tyres, threw stones and did many other things to demotivate me. I then decided to take slumlords into confidence.”

She tried to bring everyone under one umbrella by holding discussions with both – the men and the women of the slum. She knew that since they had been exploited many times before, it would take them some time to trust her and warm up to her initiatives. The first crucial step that sealed a bond of trust between the doctor and the slum dwellers was when she installed a hand pump in the area so that they could have access to clean drinking water.

Gradually, with baby steps, Kiran won them over. She saw potential in the women and started training them to become health workers. After 6 months of training at Asha, each trainee is given a medical kit to better address common illnesses and health problems.

Credit: Asha India

Today, Asha Society has spread its branches in over 60 slums across Delhi, and all of them have their own health centres with trained doctors, nurses, and other healthcare facilities. As a result, there has been a considerable reduction in the infant mortality rate, maternal deaths, and birth rate.

Credit: Asha India

But Kiran didn’t stop here. Through Asha, she launched a financial scheme that allows the slum dwellers to maintain a savings account and opt for bank loans. In 2012, she started the Asha Mentorship Programme aimed at the welfare of slum students. So far, over 1,200 students from the slums have been successful in getting admission to Delhi University. Furthermore, Asha offers an internship programme where selected slum students get the opportunity to do an internship with reputed companies!

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing
Credit: Facebook | Asha Society

Such schemes have helped the slum dwellers to gain confidence and become self-sufficient. Their lifestyle and income have both seen an upwards trend.

Receiving Padma Shri from the tenth President of India, Shri K R Narayanan was a great honour for her.

Credit: Asha India.

Starting from just a table under a tree, Kiran has brought the underprivileged sections of Delhi a long way from where they’d once stood. Because of her, they have a hope to strive for a better life, a chance to rise above the hardships and the opportunity to shine.

You have done a great job, Dr. Kiran Martin!

Credit: Facebook | Asha Society

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