The Healthcare Professional Who Offered Help to Thousands of Migrant Workers Traversing Long Distances in Hunger, Heat and Desperation.


It has almost been a year since we started living the ‘new normal’. While some of us have comfortably blended into balancing personal and work life in the warmth of our homes or even workationing in exotic locales, there are many who struggled to get meals to their family’s plates, let alone imagine that privilege.

COVID-19 brought with itself not just the deadly virus which took many lives but also rendered innumerable jobless. One of the most effected during this period were the daily wage earners. Nearly 40 million migrant workers across the country lost their earning capacity with the shutting down of businesses during the lock down. 

As the months passed by and all hopes of managing a living started fading, they took their belongings and children and started walking back from the cities to their distant villages. Hundreds and thousands of them, desperate in hunger, thirst and heat.

We watched their agonies on television and social media. Many armchair debates and discussions took place. But there were some actual warriors of humanity who took to the streets and helped them in whatever way they could. 

One of them is 28 year old Sumedh Kudale, Comprehensive Primary Health Care (CPHC) Consultant in National Health Mission. While his job entails running the Health and Wellness program for the Government of India in Nashik district, it was his personal will that led him to help the migrating workers traversing long distances.

“When I came to Nashik for my new job as a CPHC consultant, I saw thousands of people walking on the road with their 1 to 2 year old babies! It was a painful sight! People were starving.”

Image credit: Reuters

“Some of the locals started cooking and feeding them but it was hardly sufficient for the huge number of people. I got in touch with one of my friend’s relative who was a cook and he agreed to help. On the first day, we fed around 50 to 60 people. We realised we needed more funding so I got in touch with friends who could help both monetarily and on field. For the next couple of days, we were able to feed over 500 people. Word spread through social media and more people started contributing with an open heart and we ended up feeding around 3,500 people.”

For the fortunate, with all the food literally at their fingertips and delivered straight to the door, it is hard to empathise with such extreme hardships. For anyone who could offer them just a morsel of food was no less than an almighty.

“Many thanked us by touching our feet which made us cry! They called us God which was overwhelming and at the same time motivating!”

“We just wished them a safe journey and kept our efforts going. Gradually, the Government of Maharashtra started special bus and train services and the migrants’ suffering alleviated to a certain extent. And so we wrapped up our food distribution drive with a smile on our face and a delighted heart!”

This wasn’t the first time that Sumedh was involved with social service. Belonging to a family of medical practitioners and his father being a believer in the Gandhian way of life, he has grown up watching his parents extend selfless support to many of their patients.

Young Sumedh with his parents Dr. Sanjay Kudale and Dr. Nirmala Kudale.

One of Sumedh’s first tryst with social service was when he got an opportunity to work with the renowned social activist, Medha Patkar during his graduation. This experience empowered him to understand people’s rights better and duties of a responsible citizen.

Sumedh’s post-graduation at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) opened a new world of insights and learning in Public Health.

“I studied mental health at TISS. It forged my views of the society even stronger. I learnt about people’s attitude towards such conditions and the importance of mental health. TISS certainly gave me a different angle to look at some societal issues and take up more social initiatives to help people in every way possible.”

However his most profound experience took shape during the Kashmir floods in 2014 where he volunteered with a team of doctors to conduct medical camps with the NGO, Borderless World Foundation. Several people lost their livelihood and suffered severe heath issues. The situation impacted Sumedh in a way that it made him question his career as a doctor. He resolved to help as many people as possible in his capacity as a health care professional. His first-hand experience took him back to Kashmir the same year.

Sumedh was tasked with driving the Tata Venture ambulance in Kashmir in 2014.

“Kashmir is a beautiful place with beautiful people but covered in the darkness of politics and hate! There are some rays of hope with NGOs like Borderless World Foundation that are trying to bridge the gap between us and them. I hope everything gets normal in the valley soon!”

Sumedh acknowledges that our country still has a long way to go when it comes to health-care facility. This situation became even more pronounced and evident with the onset of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has made us think differently. We should take this as an opportunity to learn and behave responsibly. Our country has limited resources, therefore we need to control our population growth as population density in cities was the biggest cause of the spread of the disease. Government too should come up with new solutions to control the saturation of people in metros.”

“Everyone’s hometown or state should be self-sustainable in terms of job opportunities and livelihood, so no one is compelled to travel thousands of miles just to earn their daily bread.”

“It is also really important that we follow the guidelines shared by the government. I have seen many literates behave weirdly in this pandemic! In my view, that’s where moral education plays a crucial role.”

With everything that this pandemic has brought, what it has certainly contributed to, is testing humanity. It has brought to the fore many shades of the human emotion, fear, loss and surrender and also of compassion and kindness. Sumedh Kudale belongs to the latter who didn’t just want to go about doing his job and waiting for it all to end, but actively participate in making a difference. May be we all can too!

Dr. Sumedh Kudale’s goal is to educate society on adopting healthy practices to curb diseases. Apart from his role at the National Health Mission, he has also registered an organisation called Nirmal Kalpana Foundation in Nashik, Maharashtra to spread awareness on health related issues.

Published by Geetanjali Prasad

For a decade or so, I worked as a television news reporter, producer and anchor and dabbled in genres like entertainment, business, real estate, sports and travel for different television channels. Currently since the last five years, I am taking care of the subject of climate change and green buildings by visual storytelling through digital platforms for an American organisation. I have started this blog purely for love of writing and pursuit of extraordinary stories (as the name suggests) by looking for people who have done immensely inspiring work or overcame situations that demanded exceptional grit and determination. I want to document and share these stories with the world in the hope that it motivates more people including me to be just a little kinder to everything and everyone (including animals & environment) around us, a bit more fearless to fight for what is right and the endurance to achieve what we envision.

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