An eternal desire to study: A tale of war, love and survival

The reconstruction of the Sangupiddi road bridge, located on the A32 Jaffna-Mannar Main Highway, symbolizes the Sri Lankan government's so-called post-war development efforts in the North. Being one of the only two road bridges linking the war-torn North with the rest of the island nation, it connects Sangupiddy in the Kilinochchi district with Karaitivu in the Jaffna peninsula. Technically, a person who stands on this Atlas type bridge, designed by a British company (Mabey and Johnson) and built at a cost of US$ 9.4 million with a soft loan from the British government within two years after the war, could enjoy the scenic beauty of the entire northern province.

A free view from the northern end of the bridge captures a wide range of  branchless palmyrah and coconut trees with randomly scattered buildings within, while thick green jungles of the Wanni mainland beautify its southern end along with a vast stretch of white saltern fields glittering in between.

Yet, the road reconstruction has not been completed. When travelling on that gravel road towards Mannar via Koudarimunai juction, there comes a village called Vinasiyodai.

The village became popular because of a little star, Uthayakumar Ninanchala. She lives in a house near a village School which has classes up to Grade 9.  She excelled in the exams in Science and Social Studies and astonishingly became number one at the district level. Jaffna to-date is best known for its education. It may look very simple when compared to the records of the other students in any other district in the island nation, but it is absolutely super talent for a child from a completely backward village which has no basic educational facilities, to study and became number one at the district level barely within a couple of years after the bloody end of a three-decade long ethnic war.

It is certainly a record with lots of pains.

Like tens of thousands of other families in the Wanni region, Ninanchala's family is also badly hit by the war and poverty. She has no access to private tuition classes, science laboratories, electricity facilities, televisions, smart phones or even a library to further improve her knowledge. She still has to study under the dim light of the kerosene oil bottle lamp, which is very common at villages where there is no electricity. That too, she cannot afford to study beyond 9'O clock, because her mother is not rich enough to spent on kerosene oil too much to burn the bottle lamp for her child to study. Her school is functioning at a temporary building largely made of tin-sheets. 

It is under these appalling conditions that she has registered this landmark achievement.

Putting up a brave fight against all these odds, Ninanchala studied all on her own.  During the conversation, she gratefully recalls the help often provided by her teacher from Jaffna. Other than that she loves her only brother, Sujan.

The 14-year old brother cannot budge an inch by himself. Smiling intermittently , partially paralysed Sujan was struggling to communicate something wholesale. Taking his time to settle down, he recalled his in-born brilliance permanently impaired by the war.

Photo: © JDS

Like his sister Ninanchala, Sujan too had been a brilliant student and got through the Grave V scholarship exam from the same school. During the final phase of the war, which ended in May 2009, the family had to displace to Mullivaikkal where hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured. Sujan was hiding with several others in an underground bunker when a drop of artillery shell rain landed right on top of it. A few people were killed while several including Sujan were badly injured in that incident. A shrapnel cut open his head into half. It was wide open when he was rushed to the nearby makeshift hospital, which was functioning without basic medical facilities and the doctors were carrying out surgeries using butcher knives instead of surgical equipment.

Since some veins were intact, the doctors did quick surgery and joined his head. Sujan miraculously survived the war, but the doctors could not make his hands and legs functional. Now, he cannot walk and his mother has to take him to hospital in a wheel-chair.

The local doctors always direct him to exercise which could possibly help him walk one day. His mother has to push his wheel-chair along the white sand roads if he had to attend school and bring him all the way back.

"Having excelled in the Grave V scholarship exam, I too wish to study and play around like my classmates. It is pathetically impossible for my mum to do this everyday. Due to excessive usage on the sand road, my wheel-chair has also broken and I have stopped going to school now despite my love to study," destitute Sujan murmured in despair.

Who will have an answer for these brilliant children?

"Even my daughter cannot continue her studies beyond Grade 9, if we continue to live here. She needs to attend a school in Pooneryn if she is to study further. We don't have proper bus service in this area. There is one bus in the morning and another in the evening. Even that wouldn't run on time. If she manages to travel in the morning, then she would need to wait till late to catch the evening bus, which is not possible. Or else she will have to walk. It is absolutely impossible for her either to walk or cycle to a school in Pooneryn via this thick jungle route. It is not safe for a girl to do it under the prevailing conditions," the dejected mother said with a deep sigh.

Photo: © JDS

If the adverse effects of war has permanently curtailed the education of the likes of Sujan, the post-war scenario helps no better for the likes his sister Ninanchala. The plights of these two children unfortunately epitomise several hundreds of war-affected children and families.     

Unless and until such humanitarian issues are sincerely addressed, the so-called post-war developments and reconstructions will have only material values, simply because the efforts to convert the war-hit people as economic animals will never succeed.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.