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A ray of hope

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Kiran Martin of ASHA fame reaches out to Melbourne’s Indian community

As a social worker, pediatrician and founder of Indian organisation ASHA, Padma Shri winner Kiran Martin is obviously a multifaceted woman. At a recent reception hosted in her honour by the Indian Consulate in St. Kilda in Melbourne, Martin took over the mike to launch into an impressive account of her work and development of ASHA. Her passion for her work clearly reflected throughout her address; so did her prowess as an articulate champion of causes.

Led by Kiran Martin, ASHA Society (Action for Securing Health for All) was established in 1988, fuelled by a strong desire for social justice. It all started after she took up an assignment to treat a cholera epidemic in a slum in New Delhi. She encouraged the women to take better control of their lives and health by empowering them with education and shared knowledge.

Since then, ASHA’s work includes working in partnerships with communities to assist over 300,000 people who live in slums to improve their lives through better education, financial security and access to healthcare services. ASHA’s work has expanded globally with the support of registered Friends of ASHA societies in USA, Britain, Ireland and Australia.

Much like its name, which is Hindi for ‘hope’, ASHA Society is indeed a ray of hope for the thousands its work touches.

Kiran Martin was in Australia to meet Australian leaders and representatives to share her knowledge in their attempts to improve conditions for Australia’s remote Indigenous communities. According to Alan Tudge MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, while the Delhi slums are a vastly different environment as compared to the Indigenous communities in Australia, there are policy similarities. He believes that some of the principles from ASHA could be applicable in the Indigenous context.

When asked about her experience with Indigenous communities, Kiran said, “I did not get enough time with the Indigenous communities in Australia, however I believe the Government here is concerned about the welfare approach. Despite the millions that go into welfare schemes, the human development indices have actually fallen and are reportedly much worse than they were in the ‘70s.”

“I wish I had spoken enough with, or learnt more, from Indigenous communities, but on the whole I like the egalitarianism of the Australian society. I think we Indians have a lot to learn from them in that sense. There are too many layers in our community, too much hierarchy, elitism and looking down upon each other. I think Australia and India are different in that regard,” she continued.

“I like the Australian concept of giving everyone a fair go, the values of inherent dignity and worth of individuals, and egalitarianism. I would really like to embrace these values,” she said with characteristic enthusiasm.

Speaking about the challenges faced by ASHA over the years and its transformation into a clean, self-reliant and much improved society, Martin claimed their achievements were not just the work of the ASHA team alone, they were the result of the empowered communities who were enlightened about the importance of education.

“It is important to work towards creating community leadership and ownership so that the individuals in that community can be the agents of change and effect transformation at a deep level. We don’t want cosmetic change; we need radical transformation that ensures equal opportunities and creates belief in the inherent worth of each individual,” she concluded.
Read more about the work of ASHA here

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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