A woman, Shanta, poses outdoors in her paramedic uniform

Shanta’s Smiling Sun

A paramedic’s quest to deliver healthy babies in Bangladesh

Shanta stands behind her young daughter and combs the child's hair into pony tails

Shanta Das has been working as a paramedic in Bangladesh for 16 years. Her decision to pursue the career was borne from a childhood experience.

“When I was young, my mother used to tell me the story about giving birth to her first child,” said Shanta, now a mother of two children herself.

A wall with many framed photos of Shanta's family

Because there was no hospital nearby, Shanta’s mother suffered at home from labor pains for four whole days. The child died. “If he survived, I would have had an older brother now,” said Shanta. “I didn’t want anybody to lose her child – so I decided to become a paramedic.”

It was challenging for Shanta to pursue training and establish her career.

Her in-laws didn’t believe she could be a working woman and take care of her 8-year-old daughter, Ankita. At the time, her husband had moved to South Africa for work, and her son, Mughdho, 13, lived in a hostel close to his school.

“I worked really hard to complete three years of midwifery training,” Shanta said.

Shanta sits on a bed with a pregnant woman, using a stethoscope to listen to the baby in the womb

Proud to be a paramedic

“Now, I am providing health services to children and mothers as a paramedic,” Shanta says, proudly.

Shanta works at a Smiling Sun health clinic in Chittagong and travels around the region to visit pregnant women and new mothers. She gives check-ups, delivers babies and provides care after childbirth.

Overhead view of Shanta seated at a table, showing a woman medical information on a graph

The Smiling Sun clinic is like Shanta's second home. “Whenever a patient comes here, I treat them as if we’re family,” she said.

Shanta meticulously ensures that mothers and their children are getting proper nutrition. She counsels mothers on what they should eat and monitors children’s growth to ensure they are at a healthy weight.

Shanta learned to care for newborns in a training she received at the clinic. She teaches new moms about the importance of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.

“I believe that I am looking after their child, and in return there will be a thousand others to look after my child,” Shanta said.

Shanta stands holding a baby among a group of women sitting in a circle on the ground
Shanta, in nurses scrubs seated at a desk, speaks to a woman about health care
Shanta, dressed in nurses scrubs with a stethoscope, assists a woman in a hospital bed with her newborn baby

Happy for healthy newborns

In 16 years, Shanta has performed more than 7,000 deliveries.

“I feel very proud and happy when a mother and child leave this place after receiving good treatment,” she said.

Door to door health care

Satellite clinics provide healthcare services for those who live far away.

Shanta travels to visit pregnant women at their homes in rural areas to inform them of what to do when they go into labor.

If they are very poor, she tells them they can receive free counseling and childbirth delivery.

Shanta sits in a circle of women on the ground, showing them medical literature
Shanta walks through a village in her medical scrubs

Shanta’s patients are grateful for the care that Shanta brings.

“She comes to my house, and asks me to eat nutritious foods like milk, eggs, fish and meat,” said Rohima, who is eight months pregnant. “She also told me not to work too hard, to make sure I do not carry heavy loads and to rest adequately.”

Shanta and her young daughter walk on the street holding hands in the late aftfernoon

‘My patients are everything to me,’ says Shanta

Shanta’s daughter has taken notice of her mom’s passion for the job.

“At the end of day when I get home, I feel very proud when my daughter tells me that she wants to be like me,” Shanta said.

About this story

For five years, the Smiling Sun network has made maternal health services available to millions of Bangladeshis.

Supported by USAID and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) under the NGO Health Services Delivery Project, the network comprises 25 NGOs and 399 clinics in rural and urban areas.

The clinics provide free healthcare for the ultra-poor and reduced-rate services for others. The clinics operate as full-time facilities that offer safe childbirth delivery, emergency obstetric care and other services.

In addition, more than 10,000 satellite clinics operate on a part-time basis. They include a cadre of nearly 10,000 community health workers who provide basic services and refer clients to the full-time clinics for more care.

Paramedics like Shanta, who work in the communities where they live and connect with their patients on a personal level, are crucial to providing quality health services.

USAID’s investment is helping save the lives of millions so Bangladeshis can build a brighter future.

Photos and video by Morgana Wingard and Josh Estey for USAID