“I feel as though I‘ve achieved something” Suntran’s Story by Kieran O’Brien
Suntran was 16 years old when his father, who worked as a fisherman, died from a snake bite. There was no transport available to bring his father to the district hospital and even though medical intervention would have saved him, he sadly died. It was at this time Suntran decided that he wanted to be a doctor and serve his community; ‘I want to ensure more people, like me, don’t lose their fathers’ he told me with palpable pride. In its self – this is a remarkable heart-aching story of one child’s plight and determination.
That was only the start of Suntran’s journey. In January 2009, when the conflict resumed in the North Province of Sri Lanka, Suntran and his family were forced to leave their village. Along with his Mother, younger brother and younger sister, Suntran set up home in Manic farm, the now infamous camp for internally displaced people. After a few weeks living in an over-crowded tent with limited resources, Suntran eventually resumed his schooling. He went to school in a UNICEF temporary learning space. New volunteer teachers were brought in from the South and UNICEF worked closely with the Department of Education to ensure Children would be able to continue with their studies and complete their exams. His Mother accompanied him to school every day and he engulfed himself in his studies. When I asked him what it was like in the camp he answered simply that ‘he just studied’. Not just because there was nothing else to do but because education was a way out –‘a way out for his family’. Suntran sat his exams in the UNICEF temporary learning space in August 2009. Every morning, accompanied by his whole family, he would walk a short distance to the school tents, hungry from the lack of food and thirsty from the lack of clean drinking water and sit two three-hour exams back to back.
His determination paid off. Suntran performed excellently in his A-Levels and was subsequently awarded a place at a prestigious medical school in Jaffna. I asked him how he felt when he first heard the news and he replied simply that; he felt that he had achieved something…(after a long pause) he added, but I could not feel full happiness because my Father was not with me.
The conflict finished in Sri Lanka in May 2009 and the Tamil population have been gradually returning to their communities. The Cathal Ryan Trust and UNICEF Ireland are supporting the return programme by rebuilding schools and health centres damaged during the conflict, providing water and sanitation facilities to the communities and issuing self-employment grants to female-headed households.