A ray of hope for the poor
There are many people who make money but it is only a handful of them who use it for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden. To that genre belongs Atmakuri Sankara Rao, a successful businessman turned philanthropist.
The Sankar Foundation which he started in 1984 has today become synonymous with service especially in the field of healthcare, community services and education to the poor and needy. No wonder the foundation has received the `Best NGO' award from the State Government during the World Sight Day celebrations in Hyderabad early this month.
Born in September 1931, Sankara Rao had a turbulent childhood, when his family fell on hard times and he had to discontinue his education to support his mother and brother. He joined as an apprentice at his uncle's Seaway Shop in 1946, where he worked hard for two years. Having learnt the tricks of the trade, he started his business in ship chandelling.
He later diversified into timber trade, construction and real estate. He took up civil engineering contracts in 1971 and soon bagged two orders worth Rs.1 crore each, one from the Naval Drydock for construction of the north wall and the other from the Visakhapatnam Port for reclamation of land in the port area. During this period, he had acquired a lot of equipment and undertook works at Damanjodi (Orissa) and in Madhya Pradesh.
"I was the first Vizagite to get the special `S' Class contractor status from the Military Engineering Service (MES) in 1972," he recalls with a sense of pride. The special status enabled him to participate in tenders for MES works all over the country. His latest business venture was the construction of the Grand Bay hotel, which was sold to the Adyar Gate Hotels, Chennai in 1985, for economic reasons.
He started the Sankar Foundation, a voluntary organisation to work for the cause of the poor and needy, in July 1984. The foundation was more or less a dormant organisation, which was only giving scholarships to poor students in the first 11 years after its inception. Sankar Rao gave it a new lease of life, when he took over as managing trustee of the foundation in 1995 and continues in that capacity to this day.
"Though I had a yearning for undertaking social service right from an early age, I never had any idea about it until I took up whole time service in 1995. By then I had fulfilled my family obligations and my two sons and a daughter were well settled in life. I kept a fixed sum aside to take care of me and my wife's needs and decided to spend the rest of my funds and assets in charities," he says.
"I found that TB and cataract were the most prevalent diseases in north Andhra and decided to do something for poor patients," he recalls. A hospital for TB patients was started in 1995 and in five years 400 patients were cured spending Rs.18 lakhs. The number of patients cured is less as there were a large number of patients who had stopped taking drugs half-way through the course.
The patients are given intensive treatment for two months after which the treatment has to be followed up for six months. However, the patients tend to stop the use of drugs as they show signs of recovery after intensive treatment. This leads to drug resistance. The hospital was closed in 2000 as Sankar Rao was vexed with the high drop out rate of patients, which was defeating the very purpose of setting up the hospital.
A Hospital for Women and Children was started in February 1998. The hospital had recorded 2,600 births and 24,000 vaccinations in the four years of its existence. The hospital was closed in April, 2002 as corruption had crept into the hospital administration.
Sankar Rao is most satisfied with the functioning of the Eye Hospital, which was opened in June 1997. The hospital has conducted over 22,000 surgeries and treated 1,54,346 outpatients in the last five years. The good work done has attracted a lot of donations from corporate houses and voluntary organisations in the form of costly equipment including imported ones.
The hospital presently has five doctors with Dr. R. Suryanarayana Raju as its chief. It also has four qualified optometrists and a dedicated team of paramedical staff. The facilities offered are on par with corporate hospitals. "My doctors and staff are keeping up the reputation of the hospital with their good work. I only ask the doctors to ensure that the patients do not feel they are looked down upon as treatment is free," says Sankara Rao humbly.
The hospital has recently been recognised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India as an institution to impart training to ophthalmic surgeons in the district and medical college faculty in manual small incision cataract surgery.
The foundation has plans to upgrade the hospital, which is now in a rented premises, into a 50-beded hospital with research facilities. The foundation has sought the government for allocation of two-and-a-half acres of land for setting up of the hospital.
Treatment at the foundation's hospital was totally free during the first four years since its inception. A one-time registration of Rs.20 is being collected from March, 2001 and from June, the same year, voluntary donations were being collected from patients. The hospital conducts 25 surgeries and attends to 160 outpatient cases per day on an average.
Sankar Rao treats the staff like his own family members to extract more out of them. "I have no personal interest in the trust and it is meant for the poor people. Any of the doctors and staff who show involvement in their work will be made trustees," he says.
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