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Sentinels of the Soil is a Storybook of Courage, Determination and Growing Human Compassion

The Sentinels of the Soilis a delightful book of 8 enthralling stories of bravery and selfless service from nooks and corners of India gripped in clutches of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a compendium of all those unheard voices, which continue to remain the backbone of the Government of India’s noble and successful work to curb the impact of the pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has surfaced chronicles of courage, service and utmost compassion, which manifested during the challenging COVID times. This book doesn’t simply contain stories of 8 frontline individuals but is a tribute to all the frontline and healthcare workers of India, whom we do not know personally, yet they have tirelessly performed their duties for us without any self-interest. This book is a dedication to every human being, who supported in making the Government efforts victorious during the COVID-19 spread.

28 years old Mukesh Maida, a doctor, travels in a boat with his team to conduct vaccination session in a remote village in Ramgarh, Banswada

The book details the days in the life of healthcare and frontline workers during the peak pandemic days, who are the front hands of the Government of India. It details their daily work and shows how they kept on disposing of their duty despite all odds. This is a beautiful photo book about the undying human spirit and how simple people contributed through their most inventive efforts leading to a gigantic positive impact on Government’s initiatives during the pandemic. One such interesting example of Dr. Mukesh Maida and his team of health workers has been noted in this book. They travelled to water-locked villages of the Banswara district in Rajasthan delivering vaccines to even the most far-flung places. In pictures, he is seen extending a mobile vaccination drive in those areas and travelling through local boats to reach these villages, which are separated by a local water body. Beyond putting painstaking labour to reach such remote spots, his inventive and eminent idea was to intelligently inspire women of the household to get vaccinated first, which meant that soon their other family members would also follow the lead. Simply reaching out to only the woman of the house saved their effort. These women were then enough self-motivated to convince their other family members to take the vaccine and be protected. Dr. Maida and his team spread the word to curb vaccine misinformation. Their travels to remote areas in boats, and delivering vaccines directly to homes, has been beautifully brought out through expressive images in this book.

This book is a collection of motivational stories and carries the true sentiment of India through the common folks who were working with the Government to handle the COVID-19 crisis gracefully with grit. The Sentinels of the Soil deserves to be out in the open for the world to see and appreciate. Spirit of India brought out in this book is a beautiful example for the world to see how a developing nation successfully overcame one of the biggest crisis ever seen in recent history. UNICEF has taken upon itself to capture the stories of bravery and service from throughout the country by making a contribution through articulate pictures. Another interesting anecdote is from the life of Parvin S Baria – the ambulance driver from Gujarat who tirelessly performed his duties despite losing both his parents to the COVID-19 surge. While the last rites of his parents were being performed, his other family members encouraged him to answer his call of duty and serve the society, which was in urgent need. Many drivers like him missed their chores, their meals and weren’t even able to attend to their own families, yet made sure that they were sincere and true to their duty. The voices of India in times of COVID has been truthfully and elaborately presented through this book.

The pandemic has a lot to teach the human race. Many lives were lost and these were some of the most difficult times in recent human history. Despite all this, there were some people, who always backed and supported the society without giving much thought to their own interests. The beautiful photos contributed by UNICEF, have aptly brought to light the endeavours of the Government of India in preventing and minimising the detrimental impact of this pandemic. From vaccinations happening at lightning speeds to infection testing, and hospitals running at their full capacities, everything has been put out through intelligible pictures. The Government’s medical knowledge base and medical enforcement arms like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Drugs Controller General of India and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) left no stone unturned to understand and curb the impact of this infection, which was new, fast-spreading and unpredictable. There were quick drug trials and approvals, vaccination was developed rapidly and supplied at a shooting pace. Makeshift hospital facilities were constructed within days, which began operating at their full capacities immediately. Like many doctors who were exhausted yet awake, this book tells us a story of a young doctor Devashish Desai, a senior resident at the All-Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, who tirelessly worked shifts after shifts and faced one of the worst medical crisis too soon in his career. All such feats were only possible because the invisible frontline workers, who acted as the spine of the Government, kept the system and its services running without any glitch.

Another captivating story from the book that gives us enough internal appeasement is that of Harshali Purohit, a health worker from Madhya Pradesh who went on to encourage people to get their COVID vaccination and end misinformation around it. Her obstacle was unique and challenging when people weren’t too enthusiastic about getting vaccinated and the crisis had only started to get deeper. She came up with an idea wherein she appealed to the people by means of their already followed community traditions and rituals. Harshali’s approach to inviting people to vaccination centres was distinctive when she picked up the customary gesture of sending wedding invitations of placing rice and turmeric at people’s doorsteps and adopted the same for now inviting the beneficiaries to vaccination centres. The people were pleasantly surprised by her unique actions, who finally began coming out to get their vaccine doses. She successfully broke the social barriers and stigma around vaccination. Such examples of pioneering human intelligence and compassion give us mental satisfaction that the enforcement arms of our government beautifully performed in times of need to attain their objectives and meet our expectations.

Moving ahead from the stories of health workers and frontline workers, this book surfaces a quirky story of a common citizen who took upon himself to educate and sensitise people about COVID appropriate behaviours. India has a huge population and a big land area, with such a challenge, it is not easy for the Government alone to reach out to every individual and tell them to wear a mask in public, get vaccinated and avoid unnecessary travel. During such times, our very own noble citizens like PK Perumal from Kerala came to support Government’s efforts pro bono. He took it upon himself to reach out to the masses and become a communication tool of the Government. Perumal went on to spread awareness about COVID appropriate behaviours in busy market spots at Chennai using a microphone attached to this motorbike. In addition to this, he also delivered medicines and food to needy people. He did all this at his own expense without even charging a single penny from anyone.

In retrospection, this book not only brings to the surface the success of the Government in curbing this pandemic but is a token of respect to all the frontline health workers, who were the support pillars for the entire society and deserve our honour and appreciation.

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