Chandrasekhar Sankurathri – A True Hero

How many people can undergo the loss of everything they love, and then convert that tragedy into an opportunity for helping others? Not many. That’s the stuff that heroes are made of. And that is the reason why CNN has honoured Dr. Chandrasekhar Sankurathri as a CNN Hero.

After losing his wife and two children in the bomb blast aboard a flight from Ottawa to Mumbai in 1985, Dr. Chandra could not find any reason to live further. However after three years of tortuous searching, he decided to pack up his job as a biologist in Ottawa, and returned to a small village in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Excerpts from the article in CNN:

“India has so many problems,” says Sankurathri, 64. Two in particular caught his attention: a lack of school attendance and rampant blindness. With the money he had, Sankurathri created a foundation in his wife’s name, and in turn, built a school and an eye hospital in the small rural village of Kuruthu, not far from his wife’s birthplace. Today, his foundation’s efforts to empower the poor through education and health care are having significant success. Since its inception in 1992, Sarada School, named after the 4-year old daughter he lost, has grown from one to nine grades and graduated more than 1,200 children. It boasts of a zero drop-out rate as against the national average of 50%. The fees, books, uniforms, meals, even medical checkups are all provided free of cost by Dr. Chandra. All the students need to contribute is discipline and a keenness to learn.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has also written this excellent article on Chandrasekhar:

The Sarada school represents a ticket out of poverty for these kids, and there’s no fooling around at morning assembly. If you show up late, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb standing there with your backpack until it’s over. The children solemnly pledge their loyalty to their country… to their teachers, to their neighbours, and to their gods. After the assembly, there is a ritual walk around the statue of the goddess who is sometimes also known as Sarada, the name of the school and of the girl who inspired it. As the school day unfolds underneath the huge mango trees, you get a sense of what education means to these kids. Ask them how many have parents who cannot read and write. Most of the hands go up. For themselves, they have bigger ambitions. What do they want to be when they grow up? They answer: English teacher, doctor, teacher, police officer.

And this is not all. The same school buses then ply to bring in the blind and half-blind to the Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology, named after his lost 7-year old son. Since its opening, the hospital has performed more than 137,000 cataract operations, 90% of them free. The article goes on to say:

Cataract surgery is a life changing experience whatever country you’re in. But it still inspires awe to see its impact on people who couldn’t possibly pay for it and who otherwise would be condemned to darkness for the rest of their lives. The blind watchman can see. “I can work as long as I want now because I can see, two grandsons, grandchildren, so I’ll be happy to see them again,” he says. “It’s really gratifying to see that satisfaction, the feeling on their faces, the elderly people. Those who thought they’d reached the end of their life, end of the tunnel,” Sankurathri says.

And how does he manage to run all this?

It’s all funded by donations from Dr. Chandra’s network around the world, a little from the Indian government, a little from charities like Help the Aged, and a little from CIDA, the Canadian aid agency. He gets a little, too, from strangers on the other side of the world. Like school principal Theresa Crisky and her students at St. Gregory’s Catholic School in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. The kids have been raising money through bake sales and the like every year, a total of $14,000 to date.

Find the CNN Videos of Dr. Chandra and his work at this link.

It is remarkable indeed to see the difference one man can make in the lives of many. Even more so after having suffered such pain in his life. The Better India salutes the spirit of Dr. Chandrasekhar. Read the complete CNN article here and the CBC feature here. Image Courtesy: CBC News