Director's Biography

Biographical Details
   Director of NYSASDRI
   Founder of the Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Center
   President of the Rotary Club of Bhubaneswar Heritage

Born in the small, backwater village of Santhasara, in the Dhenkanal district of Odisha, Sarangadhar Samal (Sarang) had many obstacles to overcome from the beginning of his life. His village had no electricity and very little communication to the outside world. An ambitious boy from the start, Sarang walked 12 km to school and back everyday, which was a 2 ½ hour walk both ways. Sarang describes the journey as difficult, not because it was a long road, but because it cut through the highly vegetated landscape of Odisha. It is not surprising that Sarang was only the second person to receive an education in his village.

After moving on and receiving a higher education, Sarang immediately went to work in an industry which dealt with chemicals in making detergents. However, soon after beginning Sarang realized that he was unhappy. He saw a great deal of discrimination in his work, as the managerial staff of the industry was paid large amounts of money while the day laborers were paid very little. Thus, he proceeded to resign, join the labor union, and revolt against the corruption that he saw in the industry. After moving on to work for a government-run lumber company, he once again saw exploitation—“black money” was involved in many transactions. It was around this time that Sarang discovered his passion for social activism. His belief in equality—especially equality of opportunity—drove him to leave home with no plans or destination and with the sole goal of becoming a real social worker.

In his travels, Sarang encountered an isolated tribe called the Santal. Upon his initial encounter with them, Sarang remembers how they were armed with bows and arrows and wore giant headdresses. They captured him and took him to their village. Sarang saw these people as an opportunity to start his social work. He began to teach them basic numbers and letters in Oriya. Sarang reflected on how “happy” they were to learn. Furthermore, in order to save time for the local women, who daily walked large distances to collect water, Sarang initiated well digging in the village. People began to hear of Sarang’s good deeds and his talent for organization and began to support him. Slowly, through various projects, NYSASDRI was created with a mission to fight against poverty and to improve the quality of life of the Oriya people.

It was in the 1980’s that Sarang noticed the great correlation between blindness and poverty. He explained that NYSASDRI’s mission was “obstructed by blindness because visual impairment results in loss of productivity as well as spoils the household economy.” In addition to the lack of eye care in Odisha, during this time 50% of the surgeries undertaken for cataracts were producing increased blindness—a clear indication of low quality of care. Thus, Sarang felt that through NYSASDRI comprehensive eye service must be offered to the poor. Although many people encouraged him to create an eye hospital in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, Sarang believed it was more important to have his hospital at the “doorstep” of the rural Oriya population. Dhenkanal was chosen due to its central location in Odisha. Here, in October of 2002, Sarang and his partners took a risk-they rented a small house for 5000 rupees a month and started their practice, concentrating only on cataracts and refractive errors. Eight years later, with a new hospital building, thriving staff, and the latest technology for eye care, Sarang’s hospital model is being used by others to start their own hospitals all over the world.

Sarang says, “It’s easy to set up a hospital.” All you need are three things—space, staff, and technology. Sarang took a risk and rented his first hospital space. For paramedics and doctors, he decided to train local Oriyans in eye care, helping the local economy and providing these young Oriyans with a future. His doctors are now world-class cataract surgeons. Lastly, through the help of NGOs like Orbis International and Unite for Sight, he was able to get the necessary technology for the hospital.

As for the future, Sarang has said that sustainability is the hospital’s greatest challenge. While the hospital is successful in its outreach camps, paying patients are few and far between. Only with paying patients will the hospital be able to continue to help the greater community.

Currently a very busy man, Sarang does his work with a seldom seen determination. His zeal for social activism, which he discovered at a young age, continues today. One of his newer roles is being Vice-President of the now one year old Rotary Club of Bhubaneswar Heritage. When asked if he enjoys what he does, Sarang has said that he does very much but is “not yet satisfied,” so he is working to expand the scope and magnitude of his organization’s impact in the future. Contrasting his humble beginnings with his current achievements, there is little doubt that Director Samal will do just that.