Sandhya Roy (born 1954) was only 17 when she left home to help soldiers wounded in the 1971 Bangladesh war. The end of the war found Sandhya far too immersed in her work to return home. Instead, she joined Gonoshasthya Kendra (which means people's health center-GK), an NGO working to establish a people-centered health system. For more than 30 years now, she has been challenging gender stereotypes, fighting fundamentalists who wish to keep her down, and working toward her dream of a holistic health system.
Sandhya Roy was a young women when the 1971 Bangladesh war for liberation from Pakistan began. In response to a call from some doctors, she left home and school at age 17 to join rescue and treatment operations. The end of the war left Sandhya with the realization that she was way too deep in her work to return home or complete her studies. In 1972, a group of doctors set up GK. Impressed by GK's vision of a people-centered health system, Sandhya decided to pitch in. It was implicit to the GK team that trained paramedics were needed to get healthcare to the people. Sandhya was part of the first batch to receive paramedical training. Her work with GK has been pathbreaking in several ways: she came up with the idea that women should train to be drivers and operate broilers-both jobs that would challenge prevalent gender stereotypes. Her work is also driven by her conviction that the impoverished and the disempowered can be agents of change, and not merely passive recipients of aid. While the decision on what kind of work she wished to do came easily to Sandhya, living the life she chose did not. In addition to almost mandatory threats and violence, Sandhya has also had to brave people's prejudices against a single woman in a nontraditional profession. She says, "After independence, I started my career with a dream-that I will work for the people and bring about a change in society. I still believe that change is possible. I work hard for that change."