Fluent in five languages, this woman is allaying migrant workers’ concerns in Kerala

Supriya Debnath from Odisha has been trained by the Nation Health Mission to circulate COVID-19 information on a helpline set up for migrant workers

Ever since the lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, Kerala has been on the frontline when it comes to combating the consequences of both the pandemic and the lockdown that it has led to. 

A control room was set up for migrant workers at the civil station to address their concerns and aid them in such crucial times. About 11 migrant link workers have been trained by the National Health Mission (NHM) to circulate information related to the coronavirus among the migrant community in the state of Kerala.

One of them is Supriya Debnath. She is fluent in five Indian languages - Bengali, Assamese, Odia, Hindi, and Malayalam - and handles hundreds of calls received at the control room on a daily basis. 

“The migrant labourers call the control room talking about how worried they are about their jobs and whether they would be able to return home,” Supriya tells The New Indian Express. 

It is nothing but a feeling of comfort when a panicked migrant labourer dials the number and is met with a response in their familiar native language.

Supriya Debnath (Image: The New Indian Express)

In fact, Supriya was to return to Odisha for a break when COVID-19 dawned upon the country. Instead, she volunteered to assist the disadvantaged and answer calls from migrant workers across the state at the Collectorate. Most calls received are usually to ask about food distribution in camps, and other measures that are necessary to be taken in order to stay safe from the virus. 

“Now, they are aware of the issue and keep asking me through WhatsApp messages about the gravity of the situation every day,” she tells The Hindu.

Five years ago, Supriya arrived in Kerala along with her husband Prashant Kumar. They both are from Kendrapara district in Odisha. Eventually, she undertook a teacher’s job at the Malayidamthuruthu GLP School. Not just that, Supriya also undertook the role of an education volunteer in the state’s Roshini project which aims to improve migrant children’s education. Now, Supriya and Prashant have a four-year-old daughter Shubhasmita.

“The only things we had as possessions when we arrived (to Kerala) were the thirst to study and the hope for a better life,” adds Supriya.

(Edited by Apoorva Puranik)

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