Sankara Eye Care Institutions is a group of 11 eye hospitals comprises a team of 125 doctors, 600 paramedical professionals, 275 support staff and has touched the lives of over 40 million people in these 35 plus years. Its mission towards freeing mankind of preventable and curable blindness continues to follow divine light.
Sankara's vision remains truly secular in nature. In fact, the eyes of one of the founder trustees was donated to a member of a different religion. All stakeholders in Sankara believe that corneas know no religion, socio-economic status or other perceived barriers. And therefore, they continue to touch lives.
The history of Sankara Eye Care Institutions is steeped in belief and perseverance. Its story goes back to the 1970s when a young doctor with a flourishing practice in Coimbatore decided that there was something more he ought to be doing as a medical professional. At that time, he was not clear what he wanted to do to change that, but Providence had it all planned. A chance visit to the Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple in the city provided him with just that opportunity: under the guidance of the Seers of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, the temple trustees were planning to set up a health care centre exclusively for the poor.
Dr. R.V.Ramani and his wife, Dr. RadhaRamani knew immediately that it was a god send opportunity to serve and fulfil their dream. Dr. Ramani immediately spread the word, got together some like-minded, young medical colleagues, who were willing to contribute one day in a week to provide free care at the centre. He and his wife would spend two days a week at the centre. Although the decisions were made spontaneously, the dream was far from reality: there was no model of a free medical centre to build this venture upon; on the one hand were the government run institutions and on the other, private hospitals that charged appropriately.
That did not deter the young doctor couple. Everything moved as planned and on 21 May, 1977, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Centre opened a 100 sq.feetclinic to the public. Dr. Ramanirecalls that the first table, the chairs and the first ceiling fan were donated to the centre by his friends. The Acharya of the Kanchi Mutt urged the team to charge a very nominal fee of 50 paise per patient – in order to add value to the services. News spread and soon, the 100 sq.ft. clinic was hardly enough to accommodate the thronging queue of patients. This heralded a new chapter in the history of medical care in Coimbatore.
In 1978, Dr. Ramani saw an opportunity to start a free immunisation programme at the clinic. In association with the Rotary Clubs of Coimbatore, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Centre began the Measles Immunisation Programme. In the years that followed, the Trust added a clinical laboratory (courtesy of the Lions' Clubs of Coimbatore) and an X-Ray unit (the funds for this initiative was raised through the benevolence of Padma Bhushan awardee, Padma Subramanyam's dance recital on the theme 'Jaya Jaya Sankara'). Dr. Major. Rao, of the famed Rao Hospital in Coimbatore, offered to spare 5 beds at his hospital and also extended his support to surgical assistance for the poor, through the Trust.
In 5 years time, Dr. Ramani and his team were able to replicate this highly successful health care model at 9 different centres in Coimbatore, in association with different industrial establishments. The initial team of 10 doctors soon grew to a highly skilled and professional team of 75 doctors.
By 1982, the activities of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust had grown very diverse and grown well. At this juncture, the Acharyas advised Dr.Ramani to establish Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Trust, exclusively to oversee health activities. A board of Trustees were appointed and have continued to guide its activities, ever since.
In 1985, a new chapter in the history of the trust was waiting to be born: under the leadership of Dr. Ramani and the persuasion and deep commitment of many doctors, especially Dr. S.Balasubramaniam, the idea of focusing on a specialised area of medical care emerged. The incidences of preventable and curable blindness in India was very high during the 1980s and there was much that could be done.
Naturally, the 10*10 sq.ft.clinic would not do for such a lofty dream; Providence would not have it that way either. A good friend of Dr. Ramani, ShriNatraj came forward and donated 5.5 acres of land in Sivanandapuram, in Saravanampatty area of Coimbatore. Back then, this area was a remote hamlet, very unlike the buzzing IT centre that it has become today. The entire land was covered in Parthenium and far removed from the rest of the city. Again, help came in the form of friends. Soon, a fencing was erected around the land and coconut trees were planted alongside the fence. A bore well was also sunk and on another side of the fence, avenue trees were planted as well. The residential quarters in the hospital premises were lined with suitable plants as well.
Construction of the hospital that was to be named Sankara Eye Hospital was yet to begin. This is when Dr. S.V. Balasubramaniam, both a visionary and philanthropist came forward to donate a Toyota van and construct a 1000 sq.feet consultation centre - Vedanayagam centre within the premises. The van was used for the Trust's outreach programmes.
From that beginning, there was no looking back. To the team at Sankara, Eye Care was going to be a long-term mission. Therefore, every facet of construction – be it the 10 feet wide corridors, the H-type architecture that segregates outpatient care from diagnostics and inpatient care, paving way for natural light to come in, or demarcating the support activities such as the canteen and purchase areas from the main hospital, were planned, keeping the future in mind. The architecture and construction remains relevant even today.
Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) USA, a non-profit organisation, was established in 1998 in San Jose, California. It is run almost entirely by a group of energetic volunteers to support charity eye care at Sankara Eye Hospitals in India.
What started as a grassroots community in the Bay Area a few years ago, has now spread across USA as more and more volunteers have joined hands.
SEF collects funds for ongoing programmes and for the construction of hospitals. An extensive feedback model lets donors know exactly how their money is being utilized. SEF has more than doubled the funds raised every year for this cause. As a result, the number of free eye surgeries performed in India has grown exponentially.
Click here for more info on SEF USA.
SEF-EU Is a registered non-profit organization based in London. SEF-EU is dedicated to providing free community eye care through its affiliate, Sankara Eye Care Institutions, India.
Launched in the year 2004, SEF-EU is run entirely by a group of committed volunteers and aims to actively support free eye surgeries at Sankara Eye Care Institutions, India.
This is done by raising funds through events, booths and individual contributions. Donors can also choose to sponsor specific programs such as Open an Eye a Month, thereby deciding how their donations are utilised.
Click here for more info on SEF Europe.
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