On June 19th, the eye care community in India suffered a major blow. Vasant Shendye – Programme Manager at Sightsavers’ North India office – died in a tragic hotel fire along with a senior staff member and a consultant from Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital, and seven other people in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Vasant and Sightsavers’ partners from Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital were in Pratapgarh – a small city 160 km east of the state capital Lucknow – to assess eye health facilities and collect demographic and health data that would inform Sightsavers’ strategy and interventions in the district.
Vasant joined Sightsavers as Programme Officer in 2008. During his seven years at Sightsavers, he played an important role in managing critical projects in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal. He was a much loved member of staff, full of enthusiasm and determination to improve the lives of people in one of the poorest areas in India.
His major contributions at Sightsavers included launching a state-wide school screening initiative in Chhattisgarh, coordinating assessments for children identified with low vision in school, and setting up quality assurance systems for partners in North India. He was a strong believer in strict quality standards and his consistent lobbying convinced the government of Chhattisgarh to initiate quality improvement measures across public eye health facilities in the state.
He was extremely passionate about education, and in particular, promoting sports and co-curricular activities for children with visual impairment in school. His efforts led to several visually impaired children participating in sports and cultural events and also winning prizes at the local and state levels.
In keeping with his growing prowess and skill, Vasant was recently promoted to Programme Manager. He was charged with leading Sightsavers’ programmes in Uttar Pradesh and monitoring our work in Chhattisgarh.
Vasant was very meticulous and systematic in his work, and motivated his partners to work in the same manner. He often went beyond the call of duty to serve Sightsavers’ mission. He participated in fundraising marathons in various cities over the years. In November last year, he travelled from Bhopal to Delhi on a holiday to run for Sightsavers at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and raise money to support our work. He truly was an inspiration to everyone he knew.
In Vasant, Sightsavers has lost a capable and committed member of staff, a great colleague, and above all a very good human being. He will be deeply missed by our colleagues – in India and globally – not only for his professional expertise and outstanding work ethic, but more so for the extremely warm and genial person he was.
Our only solace now is in knowing that he left the world doing what he did best and loved most – giving people their vision and lives back. The best way we can honour his memory is by doubling our efforts in delivering on the mission we worked together for.
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind”
– William Wordsworth
(Re-posted from the Sightsavers website)