Thomas-Sajo Henry at a glance
Saving eyes and changing lives
When Thomas-Sajo Henry and his colleagues were looking for something to do with the money that, as atheist or non-Christian, they were not required to pay in church-tax, they decided to set up an NGO called ‘Hamara Bandhan’ (‘Our Bond’ in English), which started in Heidelberg in July 2005. They didn’t realize then how far it would reach.
Our first and most successful project involved facilitating and funding eye cataract operations in the Indian state of Karnataka. As we researched the idea, we realized that it was often the main family wage-earner who was crippled by cataracts – a clouding of the eye lens – leaving their dependents on the brink of poverty and starvation.
While working out the costs, we discovered that all it takes is a mere €27 to give the gift of full vision. With the help of an eye surgeon, we started up eye camps in 2006, offering surgery for the needy. This model proved to be enormously successful, and so far we have done over 8,635 eye surgeries, hosting our 214th eye camp in June 2018.
Today, Hamara Bandhan is a group of 28 dedicated individuals, primarily IT professionals working in various organizations in Germany. In choosing projects, we look for ones that are autonomous and can be run independently. As full-time professionals, we have time constraints and are able to commit only to weekends and holidays for our charity work.
At Hamara Bandhan, we are extremely conscientious about our overhead costs: out of every €100 we raise, only €3 is spent on running the organization. We fund our own trips and print our own flyers. We are also fortunate to be associated with selfless surgeons and volunteers who organize these camps with us.
“They arrive nearly blind, and leave sighted and confident, the feeling we get is incredible”
Our greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the impact that our activities have on people and communities. Watching people come to our eye camps nearly blind, but then returning home fully-sighted, confident and self-reliant, the feeling we get is incredible.
We are also involved in several other projects. For example, we have supplied hearing aids to a deaf and dumb school in Karnataka, having hooked up with a supplier in Heidelberg who was keen to donate excess hearing aids.
In a separate project, we funded the cost of 11 sewing machines for a school for the deaf and dumb in Thiruvalla, Kerala, in order to facilitate a vocational training program at the school. In addition, we also donated one year’s salary for a teacher to lead sewing courses. Further projects include the renovation of a Muslim school in Gulbarga and providing solar panels to a women’s organization in Kerala.
As you can see, we select projects that are autonomous, whose smooth running doesn’t require our continued involvement and time commitment. And we also proudly position ourselves as secular – as we have helped all religious groups in India in equal measure. And we target communities over individuals. Detailed information of our work is available on our website: www.hamara-bandhan.org
Finally, I’m proud that Hamara Bandhan has been rewarded for our efforts. In 2012, we received the “Start Social” Award from the Chancellor of Germany, recognizing us as one of the best and most transparent NGOs in the country. This recognition has given a massive boost to our donor base and we now have more funds than we can allocate in a year, so we are looking for volunteers who can support and help us channel these funds in the direction of meaningful projects.
A Superstar’s message to us all
I would therefore like to reach out to my colleagues to come forward and present ideas for time-bound projects that can run on their own after the initial preparation phase. We are also in need of a network of contacts so that we can continue to work in the neediest communities in India. Just 45 minutes of your time every week will go a long way towards making an impact.
After all, it takes only €27 to bring light and sight to the life of a fellow human being.