away at 27, Vineeta accomplished in the shortest time-span what others
contemplate to do in decades. Truly dedicated to the life of others, she
had the opportunity to discover what public health had to offer while
serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village of Congo.
"My existence in Zaire was raw and surviving. I knew hunger.
Everywhere I went I saw it in the people and felt the gnawing pangs of
hunger myself. It hid itself in many faces, looming as the driving force
behind so many of the sociological and developmental problems. Lack of
motivation, dishonesty, corruption, fatigue, suffering, desperation…death.
Hunger stood alone and was fearless in power, bullying us into cowardice.
Many times I stood alone too, yet powerless to help.
I crusaded through my villages implementing health education and
family planning programs, preparing maternal and vaccination schedules, and
allocating thousands of dollars in funds from OXFAM. I worked and worked
and worked with these wonderfully warm and resilient Zairian people, and
every so often I would decide my efforts to be futile. Tears would well in
my eyes as I would question my place in Zaire, feeling miserably lonely and
useless. My cries of frustration echoed through the Kingandu valley and
rivers before they came back to haunt me again. I had nowhere to run but to
confront my feelings of failure and reassess my ideas of success. Western
culture indoctrinated me to believe achievement was tangibly the direct
result of sacrifice and exertion. That would not hold now.
The passing of each day brought new light to my eyes. I began
to discover life as I had never seen it before. My self-diagnosed
predicament of despair was remedied by smiles and infectious laughter.
Faceless people transformed into living, breathing, beautiful friends. I
became a constant in my familiar. My happiness in Zaire was not dependent
on how many health centers I supervised in one week, but rather, how I could
bring love and trust into a person’s life; through the stomach or the
heart. It did not matter. The beliefs I had come with to Zaire were slowly
washed away to meet the real needs of the people and me. How could I feel
inept to serve them when I was constantly showered with approval and
adoration? We gave each other strength despite the snail’s pace progress.
I have found my life’s purpose in international public health
service. To cherish the goodwill in serving others for no other benefit
than knowing you have tried is one of life’s priceless lessons. Whether my
work was grueling and seemingly fruitless at times, it was worth the toil
and tears. Work teaches a personalized reality. I know this to be my
Vineeta was vibrant enough to have been able
to combine all her interests and bring them to fruition. Unfortunately,
cancer ended her life too soon. In 1994, an
overland journey, bringing her back to her native India for doctoral
research on HIV/AIDS, had to be abandoned. She was diagnosed with terminal
In 1995, before her passing, Vineeta was able to discuss
the establishment of a foundation dedicated to public health work, her very
last wish. The Vineeta Rastogi Foundation intends to keep her memory and
inspiration alive and carry out the work that was so dear to her.