In Digboi, a nursing school by IOC is empowering girls

It is giving them specialised training which for many in that region is a much-needed boon

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Puja Bhattacharjee | June 7, 2014



Prity Soren was 14 years old when her father died of stomach cancer. Her mother toiled to bring up Prity and her siblings. The family managed from the income generated by their tea garden in Chabua (Assam) and her father’s pension. Prity grew up often thinking of her father and his absence.
“I have seen my father die in front of my eyes. I always kept thinking how I could be of help to people who suffer and prevent people of being bereft of their loved ones,” she says.

It was then she decided to become a doctor.

Meanwhile, it was getting difficult for her mother to provide for four growing children. Due to financial constraints, medical school was no longer an option. Prity’s dream had been all but crushed before she saw an advertisement for the Assam Oil School of Nursing (AOSN).

Established in 1986, AOSN was initially started as a community development initiative by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) (Assam oil division). It runs a three-and-a-half -year course on general nursing midwifery (GNM) which is recognised by the Indian Nursing Council.

The more Prity enquired about the school and the programme, the more optimistic she became. Not only would she get education free of cost but as a student she will also get a stipend every month. Encouraged by the prospect of being able to serve sick people, she applied for AOSN.
“I could not become a doctor but by being a nurse I would still be able to care for people,” she says.

It all started back in the late 19th century when the British-owned Assam Railway and Trading Company was laying railway tracks from Dibrugarh to Margherita. A lot of elephants were being used for this purpose. One day an engineer noticed oil patches on the feet of an elephant and asked the rider to retrace its steps. That is how the first crude oil was discovered in Asia. The Digboi refinery, India’s oldest, was commissioned in 1901 by the Assam Oil Corporation to drill and refine oil. Ever since, the oil industry in Assam has been growing. In 1981, the company was nationalised and Indian Oil took it over. The Digboi refinery is small with a refining capacity of 0.65 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA). The main source of crude oil for this land-locked refinery is from oil fields in and around Duliajan (Assam) which are owned by OIL India Limited.

Thanks to the oil refining business, Digboi has become a multicultural town as people from all over the country, particularly the neighbouring states, come looking for employment. IOC has developed townships in areas surrounding the refinery.

AOC had a hospital for their employees which came to IOC when it took over from AOC. The hospital was growing and there was a demand for nurses. Kishore Dutta, chief manager, corporate communication and corporate social responsibility, explains that the demand for nurses was much more than what was available. To meet the requirement of the hospital as well as to do some community development, IOC established the nursing school within the hospital.

Located on a scenic hillock, the main academic building is a historic bungalow built in 1940s. Prior to establishment of Assam Oil School of Nursing, lady doctors and matron of Assam oil division (AOD) Hospital used to live there. Behind the school, another bungalow serves as hostel for the students.
After a written test and an interview, Soren secured admission in the school. She was entitled to a monthly stipend of '2,500 which increases by '200 every year and during her mandatory one year internship period at the hospital she will get '5,000 for the first six months and '6,000 for the next six months. Soren, now studying in second year, feels lucky to have been able to avail this opportunity. She is able to purchase books and meet necessities from the stipend. She even manages to save some of it to fulfil her dream of getting a degree in nursing after completing the GNM diploma.
AOSN accepts students from both arts and science streams and gives preference to girls from families with annual income below '1 lakh. For training in certain specialities which are missing in AOD, the girls go to the Dibrugarh medical college.

Niru Changmai, a student of the first batch of AOSN, is currently working in the AOD hospital. For her, this school was a blessing. Had it not been for AOSN, she would have had to travel to nearby Tinsukia or Dibrugarh to study nursing. Changmai has a busy schedule in the gynaecology ward which is well-known and caters to the surrounding areas as well as Arunachal Pradesh. After completing her diploma at AOSN, she immediately found employment in a tea garden. After acquiring experience she came to work in AOD. Finally in 1992, she became a permanent employee of the AOD hospital. For Changmai and others of her batch, this school was a source of empowerment.

At present IOC spends '70 lakh on AOSN. Dutta says that AOSN came to be recognised as a CSR activity only from last year. Earlier it was seen as a community development initiative. As demand for trained nurses keep increasing and the number of applications keep increasing each year, IOC decided to expand the school. In 2013, it received 1,300 applications for 20 seats. Moreover, most students, after completing their diploma, chose to go for a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“We had approached the Assam government to allow us to increase the number of seats from 20 to 40 and upgrade the course to BSc (Nursing),” says Dutta. The Assam government approved the plan and the school has applied to Indian nursing council for course upgradation.

“Our target is to start the BSc course from August. We are hopeful of getting clearance from INC before that,” says Dutta.

With more students and an enhanced course, infrastructure will also need to be developed. The number of faculty has to be increased. It will take one and a half years to build additional infrastructure. Moreover, the CSR expenditure will increase by 15 percent.

AOSN has changed the destiny of many girls from poor families who could only dream of higher education. Girls from the remote regions of the northeast come to AOSN which boasts of 100 percent placements. Of the 394 students who have attended the school, 296 have completed their degree and many of them are working in prestigious hospitals all across the country, some even abroad.

Soren fondly reminisces about a neurology and oncology seminar taken by doctors from Delhi. For a girl born and brought up in a remote place, the seminar was good exposure and was also an eye opener.

“It was so beautiful. We learnt new things and got a taste of the outside world. At that moment I decided to go out of Assam and work,” she says.  Soren is keen on working as a nurse but she is also keeping teaching as an option. She feels a bond with the patients of the oncology ward.

“There are many patients whose family members never come back after admitting them. I like taking care of them,” she says.

Coming from a remote area and having endured an ordeal at a young age, AOSN has given wings to Soren and many like her for whom higher education was a dream beyond reach.

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