For Arra Chandramouli and Sailamma, it is a love that travels. It first blossomed on the bus to college in Thirumalapur, Telangana, and it grows every day on their daily visits to villages deep inside the Amrabad Tiger Reserve.
The couple works as Arrjava Warriors for Apollo Foundation’s Total Health, helping with data collection among the Chenchu community, a particularly vulnerable tribe that lives mostly off what the forest produces: leaves, roots, berries. “Our work takes us to different villages every day, and it is less stressful when I have my husband for company,” says Sailamma, 26.
Chandramouli, 29, explains that they came to know of Total Health and its mission towards empowerment in the region when a couple of their relatives started working at the foundation’s skill development centre, making candles. “I used to work as a Telugu teacher at a school. But after the pandemic, the school shut down for a long time,” he says. “Which is why we joined Total Health together.”
As Arrjava Warriors, the couple’s job is to bridge the gap between the medical team from Total Health and the community. Having been trained in providing basic life support including first aid, and measuring and recording temperature and pulse, they go to each Chenchu household to gather data. This record goes towards Total Health’s efforts in monitoring the community’s wellbeing, understanding their needs, and making holistic healthcare more accessible to them. “We also ask the women about their sexual wellbeing, and spread awareness about menstrual hygiene,” says Sailamma matter-of-factly.
Chandramouli explains that for Arrjava Warriors like them, it is normal to cover upto 140 kilometres per day. “In our community and culture, it would not be easy to go to different places with strangers. But when we do it together, as husband and wife, there is an understanding between us. In fact, there have been times we have witnessed major road accidents (NH 765 cuts through the reserve), which would have been difficult to deal with if we did not have each other by our side,” she says.
Sailamma and Chandramouli have had each other’s back since college, but it was not easy to convince their parents of that. Both their families were initially opposed to their marriage, but they went ahead despite that. Now, however, their parents have come around, even giving them support to build their career together. The couple can travel reassured that his parents are taking care of their three kids.
“We love the fact that we get to come back home together,” says Chandramouli.