Community Champions give hope and comfort to families coping with death during the pandemic


By Chandrika Patnaik

1 February 2022

Localised networks of Community Champions enable safe and dignified migration for workers from 40,000 households in rural Odisha.

Community Champion reaching out to SHG members in Buguda block in Ganjam district.

Photograph from Gram Vikas Photo Archive

Thirty-eight-year-old Susant Kumar Sethi had been working as a technician in a power loom factory in Surat since 2007. He earned ₹18,000 every month and sent half of his earnings to his wife back home. At home in Pankalasahi village in Birajpur Gram Panchayat in Ganjam district, his wife Nandini lived with their two children and his mother, Saraswati Sethi. In 2016, Susant had to leave Surat and return to his village when he was diagnosed with oral cancer. 

His 62-year-old mother, Saraswati, farms their one-acre land to cultivate paddy, pulses, and vegetables. She takes help from her relatives and employs daily wager labourers to work the land that produces food for the family for one year.

In the first week of September 2021, Jhunilata Nayak met an ailing and bedridden Susant Sethi at his home. Jhunilata is a member of the Community Champions Network (CCN), a group of local community members trained in providing occupational and financial literacy, emotional security, and access to social entitlements. Members of the CCN network help migrant households open bank accounts, access health insurance schemes, mobilise women’s groups to start productive enterprises, etc. A joint initiative of Gram Vikas and CMID, CCN is supported by ESAF Bank, Arghyam, and Urban Management Centre. 

When Jhunilata met Susant, he mentioned that he had enrolled for the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) scheme on the advice of a well-wisher from his village six years back. He had been regularly paying the annual premium of ₹330 though he was unaware of the scheme benefits.

Individuals in the age group of 18-50 years, with a savings bank account, can avail benefits of the Central Government promoted scheme. The policy is valid for one year and the nominee. The beneficiary of the PMJJBY will get ₹2,00,000 in the event of the uncertain death of the policyholder. S/he has to raise a claim within 30 days of the death by putting in an application at the local bank, including a death certificate. 

Susant’s wife Nandini had also enrolled in the scheme, but she was also unaware of the benefits and the procedure to access those. During the survey, the CCN Champion, Jhunilata, suggested Susant apply to get the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) Health ID card. Susant had exhausted his savings and taken loans to meet the expenses for his three operations in the past six years. 

A few weeks later, while still conducting the door-to-door survey in 434 households in Pankalasahi, Jhunilata heard about Susant’s death. Nandini informed Jhunilata that they had requested the ASHA worker to get Susant’s death certificate released soon after he had passed away. They knew they needed this to submit the claim under PMJJBY but were unaware of the one-month deadline for claiming the insurance.  

Jhunilata went directly to the Community Health Center (CHC) in Buguda Block the same day and requested speedy processing of Susant’s death certificate. Twenty-nine days after Susant’s death, the CHC handed over the death certificate to his wife. 

The day after getting the certificate, Jhunilata and Nandini reached the bank and filled out the required form to raise the insurance claim. Since it was the last day to raise the claim, they requested the bank to help process it the same day. They submitted the necessary documentation, including a copy of the death certificate, his bank passbook, copies of  Aadhar cards of policyholder and nominee, and the voter I-card.  

Nandini feels she could not have gotten the certificate if it was not for the support from Jhunilata, “I relied on the ASHA didi to get the death certificate released from the CHC. I don’t think I would have received the certificate on time if Jhunilata had not pressured the CHC officials to release the certificate and persuaded the bank officials to urgently process the insurance claim.” 

Jhunilata met Susant and his family while surveying migration-dependent families under the ‘Empowering Migrants for Building Resilience through Comprehensive Entitlements’ project, supported by our partner Urban Management Centre (UMC) in Ganjam. The project covers 40,000 migrant households from 133 Gram Panchayats in 10 blocks in the Ganjam district of Odisha. Most of the households depend on migration to Surat as their primary source of livelihood. The enumeration is part of a larger goal to provide handholding support in decision making, skill-building, networking, and accessing government entitlements and social protection schemes.

The UMC-supported project helps migrant workers and their families to access social security schemes and reduce dependence on loans and advances from employers. The survey findings revealed the number of migrants to Surat from each household and the Central Government Schemes availed by the migrant workers and their families. 

The project has also helped establish a Source Facilitation and Resource Centre (SFRC), named Shramik Bandhu Seva Kendra (SBSK), in Berhampur town of Ganjam. The SBSK centre functions as a one-stop centre to provide information for travel and transit to migrants at the source site. Equipped with beds, adequate washroom facilities, and a caretaker, the SBSK can accommodate up to twenty migrant workers.  

An operational helpline centre equipped with a trained executive responds to calls from workers on issues related to workplace, travel, employer, and nonpayment of wages. It also provides information and decision support systems. 

Since December 2020, we have completed the enumeration of 40,240  households and individuals in 239 villages in the district. The project has helped 3755 individuals get their entitlements, 556 individuals get the e-Shram cards, and 1410 individuals get the health cards.

Nandini says she feels supported as she grieves the loss of her husband, “I feel grateful to her for helping us at a time when my family lost the only earning member. I am also carrying the additional burden of paying off the loans we took to meet Susant’s medical expenses. The money I will receive from the PMJJBY scheme will help to a great extent to reduce that burden.” 

A Community Champion conducting door to door survey.

Photograph from Gram Vikas Photo Archive


Jhunilata Nayak, Community Champion, SBSK Berhampur, collected the data for the story. Priya Pillai edited the story.


Chandrika Patnaik leads Content Production within the Communications Team in Gram Vikas.


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