The Thumb Print profiles budding social worker Salma Hussain
Sontoli, the village in Kamrup (rural) district that Salma Hussain calls home has an adult literacy rate of about 17% and among the worst maternal mortality rates in Assam. This is why it is a pleasant surprise that Salma is emerging as one of the most promising social workers of the state. Beginning in 2014, Salma (who is an undergraduate at NERIM Law College) has given a number of talks on human rights, fundamental rights, and women rights and conducted four legal awareness camps in schools and colleges of Lower Assam. In recognition of her efforts, The Assam News has recently conferred upon her the Leadership Award and the Youth Icon of the Year (Young High Flyer) Award 2016.
The desire to be an agent of social change has always been in her, says Salma though she started taking concrete steps in this regard only at the age of 13. One evening when she was drying clothes on the terrace of her boarding school in Barpeta Road, she saw the poverty of children in the railway opposite her school. ‘I realised that I was on the third floor of my school, a beneficiary of the best education my parents could afford and there was so much want among children my age so close to me, just across the road.’ This is what prompted her to get into social work. While still at school, Salma was an active member of the Marian Social Welfare Club that made important interventions in adult literacy, health and hygiene awareness etc. and also provided relief in the slum areas. As of now, the club is still going strong.
Salma has so far worked in her own individual capacity though she has collaborated with organisations from time to time. For example, she conceptualised and led the Secret Santa Mission of Stars of North East, an as yet informal group of dedicated, mostly young people. The Mission involved distributing blankets among the homeless pavement dwellers of Guwahati. For a change, the drive was organised at midnight, 23rd December 2016. A van was filled with blankets and Stars of North East volunteers rode alongside on motorbikes and cars. According to Salma, ‘we organised the drive at midnight because to build empathy with the homeless, we should actually understand the position they are in. Unless the chilly night air leaves its imprint on your skin, you can never understand what it does to the people who meet it with their semi-naked bodies.’
Salma says that she has been incredibly lucky in meeting and collaborating with people who are equally dedicated, good hearted and who have a positive outlook towards life. Salma stresses upon positivity as a virtue that acts as a shield against the deprivation and wretchedness of people she works among, stops her from being dejected and gives her the energy and the drive to move on. According to her, being a social worker requires being frank, devoted and most important, maintaining a certain level of flexibility. ‘It is necessary to adjust your rhetoric and actions according to the people you are working among. A group of students at a seminar in a leading college may encourage you to flex your intellect but while working among young people from the deprived sections of society, it is necessary to be sensitive and try as far as possible, to speak to them in their own language.’ She believes in the inherent goodness of people and hopes that by appealing to this goodness rather than sinking into scepticism and needless criticism, she can bring about a little positive change in society.
Salma recounts working with orphaned children at Destination home, Kahilipara and the Missionaries of Charity home, Bharalumukh as her most rewarding experiences. She has made it a point to celebrate her birthday with children from these homes. This year, she with members of Stars of North East celebrated the National Human Rights Day and Friendship Day with the children of Destination home. Another experience she treasures is a meeting with a retired doctor at her talk at the Rotary Club, Guwahati late last year. ‘After my talk, the gentleman said that he was really happy with my work and was confident that the world was changing for the better’, says Salma.
In June last year, Salma attended a month long internship with the National Human Rights Commission which she says was an eye opener for her. Among the speakers at the NHRC internship was the activist and Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson whose heartfelt account of manual scavengers in India which influenced her immensely. Salma is looking forward to a very productive 2017. She has already started planning a set of activities for this year hoping to complete them before she graduates in June.