Ex-teacher helps rebuild scarred lives in Sri Lanka
2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards
MANILA, Philippines – For someone who has experienced first-hand war, violence and disaster in her home country, not to mention caring for and supporting practically all types of victims and leading survivors through the healing process, it must be easy to get disillusioned, lose hope and just give up on life.
But 82-year-old Gethsie Shanmugam of Sri Lanka rose to the occasion — and was recognized as one of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees for tirelessly championing psychosocial support systems, especially for women and children victims of conflict in the island nation for four decades.
“My work with children and adults living with war, disaster and other hardships has shown me that even in the context of terrible violence, loss and suffering, there is always the possibility of growth, caring and hope,” Shanmugam said in her acceptance speech during the Ramon Magsaysay awarding ceremonies in Pasay City last Thursday.
Her award, she said, “affirms the spirit of humanity that endures even under the most difficult of circumstances.”
“Life cannot only continue despite pain and hardships, but can take on new meaning and purpose,” she added.
The numbers from the three-decade brutal battles in Sri Lanka can be discouraging: an estimated 35,000 children were killed and 300,000 displaced.
Perhaps, having mastered patience, endurance and temerity as a teacher for 27 years helped her deal with society’s evils and keep an optimistic disposition toward fellow citizens.
A member of the Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community, Shanmugam first ventured into teaching at Mowbray Girls’ College in Kandy after attending a private girls’ boarding school.
In 1967, she went to St. Joseph’s College in the capital Colombo where, during her 16 years of teaching, she developed an interest in psychology and worked as a volunteer counselor at the Family Services Institute and Subodhi Institute of Integrated Education.