War teaches ‘each of us is a tool for the healing of ourselves’ – Magsaysay Awardee Gethsie Shanmugam

Gethsie Shanmugam

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War teaches ‘each of us is a tool for the healing of ourselves’ – Magsaysay Awardee Gethsie Shanmugam

LeAnne Jazul

Gethsie Shanmugam, who has given psychosocial support to victims of war in Eastern Sri Lanka says 'all change starts with a person'

The 6 recipients of the prestigious 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards were officially recognized during their presentation ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Thursday, August 31.

Among the awardees is Sri Lanka’s Gethsie Shanmugam, who used psychosocial support in rehabilitating women and children scarred by war in her country.

Here is the full text of her speech as provided by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

(Watch also: Rappler Talk: Ramon Magsaysay Awardee on healing the wounds of war)


Vice President of the Philippines Maria Leonor Robredo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen. 

The Ramon Magsaysay Award affirms the spirit of humanity that endures even under the most difficult of circumstances. 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. Life cannot only continue despite pain and hardships, but can take on new meaning and purpose.

Working in war-affected Eastern Sri Lanka in the mid-1990s, I saw how, with encouragement and assistance, children on the small tidal island of Nasivantheevu found the courage to negotiate with the warring parties to allow safe passage for the bus that took them to school, enabling access to an education that would transform their lives.

I met a soldier who had lost both his legs in combat, who had thrice considered suicide, and could hardly bear to sit with a member of another ethnic group. I witnessed how, through personal contact, this young man was able to set aside his anger to care for an older woman from a community he deeply mistrusted.

Working with widows suddenly thrust into new roles in a society that stigmatized them, I saw how women’s determination and hard work enabled them to overcome challenges to secure a life for themselves and their children. 

Whether working with children or adults, with individuals or groups, my 4 decades of experience has taught me that healing and transformation always starts with the person. For people who are in deep pain to begin to heal, it is essential for them to gain self-awareness and acceptance, which in turn shapes their capacity for healthy relationships with others or even towards themselves. This kind of personal growth is often something people overwhelmed by suffering find difficult to do for themselves, but with support and loving care from another human being, like the beautiful lotus that emerges from the mud, these people can be helped to bloom despite the pain they have experienced.  

As individuals, we often feel that we can’t do big things. But we can do small things. All change starts with a person. When one person becomes brighter and relates to others with genuine love, then small groups of individuals can form around them, creating small ripples of change in the world.

I believe that each of us is a tool for the healing of ourselves, for the healing of others and for the healing of the societies we live in. No matter who or where we are, we can play a role in making the world a kinder and better place. This is the message that I would like to share with you all.  Thank you. – Rappler.com

Read the speeches of other 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards recipients:


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