Not many of us are capable of losing everything we love, and then taking it as an opportunity to serve others selflessly. But some do possess this remarkable ability, and Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri is one of those people.
Dr Sankurathri used to be one of Canada’s immigrant success stories, a student from India who rose to a job as a biologist with Health Canada and settled in Ottawa with his wife, Manjari Sankurathri, and their two children, Srikiran (6) and Sarada (3), who were born in Canada. Dr Chandrasekhar lost his wife and his two children who were flying from Canada to India to a shameful act of terrorism. Their bodies were never found. 326 other people too died in that unfortunate incident.
Three years after the incident, Sankurathri decided to move ahead and give his life a new purpose. In 1988, Dr Sankurathri sold his house in Canada, where he had been living for 2 decades and settled down in his wife’s village, Kakinada. He started the Sankurathri Foundation in 1989 with the aim of providing good health and educational facilities to the impoverished rural in the outskirts of Kakinada Town in Andhra Pradesh.
“We operate from the base in Kakinada, but our outreach work is spread over four districts of Andhra Pradesh encompassing about 20 million people!” says Dr Sankurathri. “We have three major programs to realize our goals. They are education through Sarada Vidyalayam, eye care through Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology and disaster relief program through Spandana.” The programs were launched keeping in mind the apathy of situations in remote villages, with which Sankurathri was very surprised. The two things in particular that caught his attention were lack of education amongst children as well as adults and rampant blindness.
“This idea came because I had to do something with my life. So, I wanted to help people who are not that fortunate to have a good life because of poverty!” opines Dr Sankurathri when asked about conceptualization of his various projects. “The idea is to improve quality of life among poor and downtrodden by providing sustainable developmental programs. Naturally, we have concentrated on the rural people where the need is more for this kind of intervention.”
Since its inception in 1992, Sarada School boasts of a zero drop-out rate as against the national average of 50%. The fees, books, uniforms, meals, even the medical check-ups are all provided free of cost by Dr Sankurathri. All the students need to contribute are discipline and a willingness to learn.
Sarada Vidyalayam first opened with twenty-five grade-1 children, and currently consists of a primary school, a high school and a Vocational School, accommodating a total of 165 children.
The same buses that pick up students for Dr Sankurathri’s school in the morning are often used later in the day to bring eye care patients from other rural areas to the Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology. Since the hospital’s opening in 1993, more than 1,37,000 cataract surgeries have been performed, 90 per cent of them being absolutely free.
Srikiran which began with 26 beds and 9 staff members in 1993 is today a full-fledged eye care hospital with 136 beds, 130 employees and 24-hour emergency service.
Srikiran offers access to affordable eye care to all regardless of their socio-economic status. Those who attend eye screening camps, Srikiran provides free eye examinations, and if a cataract surgery is recommended, provides free transportation, surgery, medications, accommodation and food while they are in the hospital.
For their efforts Srikiran has received the best Non-Governmental Organization award for performing maximum number of cataract surgeries, successively for two years, in 2002 and 2003 (17,500 surgeries per year) by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Many other felicitations from reputed organisations followed after that.
When asked what keeps him motivated to put dedicated efforts in his work, Dr Sankurathri’s replied, “The major inspiration to do this is the pathetic conditions people live in, in rural areas with no access to primary education, basic health care & eye care and many other essential things we take them for granted in life. The second thing is the satisfaction derived by helping such people and making a difference in their lives. The third thing is the happiness we see when we help them to make their lives better.”
Dr Sankrurathi dreams higher. “We have many more plans for future, like improving the health conditions of mother and child in rural areas, cleaning the rural villages and eradication of mosquitoes through integrated multipronged approach.”