Everyday Heroes Column– Thingal Udhayam
If you ask her why she does what she does, she will say, “Because I’m a trouble-maker,” but the world be a better place if everyone caused the kind of trouble that Dr. Laxmi Rahmathullah stirs up everyday. “I’m interested in total community health,” says Dr. Laxmi as she tells you about her multi-pronged approach towards village development that lead her to found the Family Health and Development Research Service Foundation. Her projects seem small, like her careful steps, but if history is any guide then one small step for Dr. Laxmi usually results in giant leaps for community health.
The first thing that strikes you about Dr. Laxmi is her ability to laugh and you get the feeling that she values it as highly as others value her medical expertise. Though she joined Aravind in 1990 and stayed for over a decade, these days you would probably have to go to a village inside Kariapatty block to hear her laugh. Through her non-profit foundation, Dr. Laxmi has essentially adopted the Kariapatty region and launched a number of programs aimed at improving the lives of its residents. “Health is only one part of the picture,” she says as she tells you how interconnected it is with education, economic development, and the environment. So it no surprise when you learn that she has leveraged her health expertise to create an educational program that will impact the economics and environment of the village in one swoop. Three birds with one stone is tough on any day of the week, but Dr. Laxmi is no stranger to adversity.
The wife of an army officer, her husband passed away while in the service during the 1971 Pakistan war. So what did she do with her sadness? “I went to go serve for some months in the refugee camps of Calcutta,” she says, considering herself lucky to have already established a medical career during that difficult time. That’s when you’re hit by the second thing that strikes you about Dr. Laxmi: her boldness and how often it leads her to places where others don’t dare go. As a joke, I ask her if she went to Bhopal after the toxic gas leak. “Yes, for about six months,” she says, and that’s when I’m struck by the third remarkable thing about Dr. Laxmi: her selflessness.
Years later, after a car accident that made it difficult to walk, diabetes which has reduced sensation in her lower extremities, and some loss of hearing, Dr. Laxmi is still going strong. Her latest project in Karipatty block has established a model village first aid center where health “link workers” trained by her and other physicians are able to provide basic care and referral for many common health problems. Also working with the MS Swaminathan Foundation, a computer kiosk will be set up that not only will have health information, but will also be used to raise basic computer literacy, access to market information, and a communications link to share best practices in sustainable village development with other panchayats. An expert at developing concepts in community health management, she hopes the lessons learned in this pilot program can be used to propagate similar programs around the nation.
“Social connections are my only substantial asset,” she says with a laugh. Given the kind of bold selflessness that Dr. Laxmi practices, her assets make the world richer everyday.