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The Resilience Series : The teacher kept on teaching

The Resilience Series : The teacher kept on teaching


On the A9 to Jaffna, windscreens are endorsed with a sign that a traveller donated to a Hindu shrine

ORAL HISTORY :  Listen to the voice of Mr Somanathan, a teacher in Jaffna.

These three videos take us through the life of a teacher who kept on teaching amidst war and embargoes. They are a blend of images of Jaffna soil, water, kovil and library and have no people featured as it is the voice of Mr Somanathan that tells us the story.

During the protracted or long conflict between the LTTE and GoSL, the students and teachers and examiners, university vice chancellors and parents went through a terrible survival battle on a daily basis on school turf and on the way to school, back from school, studying by the light of a jam-jar lamp, running to bunkers in the schoolyard while some took that decision not to return home after school one day.

How the students kept on studying and the teachers kept on teaching is a phenomenon worth documenting for the people’s history gently told. 

Listen to Gaya’s intro blog



When Mr. Somanathan speaks he chooses terms and words as an artisan chooses the correct tool. Neither to wound nor inflict pain or negative emotion, but to clearly enunciate in the most gentlest and politest of phrases, sans blame or hatred the situation for the Student, the Teacher and a Community in crossfire, sitting exams. His unbiased accounts are insightful and mindset-challenging. In the background you may hear birdsong and the clinking of cups and crockery as steaming cups of tea were taken back and forth as guests arrived and we moved perch a few times. In the last interview we sat out in a little verandah where buses and motorcycles add to the medley. I hope you will listen and enjoy this oral history  journey through the voice of a teacher in Jaffna….


Part I Getting a good education

“The top priority of the Jaffna parent was education. Maybe because compared to the rest of the island Jaffna was not so fertile… ”
Do you know who a well-sweep is? Have you heard a term called ‘permanent and pensionable’?

iSrilankan Oral History: The Resilience Series: Part I Getting a good education from iSrilankan on Vimeo.


Part II The classroom is disturbed

“I was a schoolteacher teaching English. I saw so many youth movements advocating armed uprising, liberation struggle as they called it and justifying taking arms against the State… disrupting govt activity, in short, breaking the law and disturbing the order of the day… peace and order. The students in the upper classes were encouraged and invited to join the fray… to join the drop-outs. Education was disturbed…”


iSrilankan Oral History: The Resilience Series : Part II The Classroom is Disturbed from iSrilankan on Vimeo.

Part III Never give up and Never give in

“Living without kerosene was awful”. The Vice-Chancellor of the Jaffna University cycled from Point Pedro daily as proof of his independence and in solidarity with the ordinary Jaffna man, teacher-colleague and student. Exams were conducted and children studied with a determination that is worth a special award beyond those awarded for excelling at exams.

iSrilankan Oral History: The Resilience Series : Part III Never Give Up and Never Give In from iSrilankan on Vimeo.

Thank you for your interest in oral history. We are  grateful to Mr. Somanathan for his time and for his community in the objective of a united Sri Lanka.


  1. I am re-posting Sheila’s comment here in case Mr Somanathan misses reading it on the other video feature page.
    “Sheila says:
    March 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm • Edit
    This piece was an excellent one. No bitterness, guile, rancor or finger pointing. Just the nostalgic, brave and honest take on the experiences of a teacher during the war in the North. So apt and timely and during this dark phase of our land.
    Thanks Gaya. Looking forward to more such oral histories. ”

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