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Tuesday 23 December  
Panagamuwa Bandara
Johan van Slooten's picture
Mannar, Sri Lanka
Mannar, Sri Lanka

The Sinhalese doctor defying the ethnic odds

Published on : 23 March 2012 - 6:57pm | By Johan van Slooten (Photo by Kannan Arunasalam)
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You don’t have to look far to find stories on how divided Sri Lanka still is. Granted, this website is no different. Despite the end of the Tamil war in 2009, there is still a deep dividing line between ethnic groups in the country. And yet there are people who defy these ethnic lines and just do what they think is necessary to heal the scars left behind by the 30-year war. Dr Panagamuwa Bandara is one of them.

Dr Bandara is Sinhalese, born in Sri Lanka, but raised and educated in the UK. He trained as a doctor and went on to become a surgeon in Birmingham, specializing in artificial limbs and prosthetics.

But in 2009, shortly after the Tamil war ended, he decided to go back to his native country to work in a local hospital in the north-western, Tamil-dominated town of Mannar.

Sad sight
“I felt I had to go back,” he now says. “When I came here in July, 2009, this place was a sad sight. The hospital was old and dilapidated. People were sleeping in the corridors on newspapers. But it was the only safe place at the time.”

Dr Bandara knew that a lot of work needed to be done. After years of conflict there were more than enough people in desperate need of good medical care.  Most patients who visited the hospital had one thing in common: they were missing limbs, in 95% of the cases casualties of war. Now the war had ended, Dr Bandara and his staff could start working on rehabilitations.

While treating his patients, Dr Bandara rarely ever discusses the cause of the injuries. He doesn’t talk about the war. “Does it matter how the person got injured?” he asks rhetorically. “I don’t think it does. What matters is that the wounds are healed and that the patient is capable of living a fairly normal life in the future.”

Click here to watch a video produced by Kannan Arunasalam for Groundviews of Dr Bandara's work in Sri Lanka.

“It’s important to know what his or her ambitions and aspirations are. We try to get them in a state where their condition or handicap is not a deciding part of their life anymore. That’s what we do, regardless of their background or ethnicity.”

Dr Bandara’s work in Birmingham with artificial limbs and prosthetics spurred his ambition to give back to his native country. “Sometimes a patient would get a brand new, expensive artificial limb but it wouldn’t fit. We had to simply throw that material away, as we were not allowed to recycle it. I thought that was silly, so I collected these materials, kept them in my garage and shipped them to Sri Lanka.”

Love and kindness
His work was recognized by colleagues and friends, who helped him to found a professional organisation, Meththa, or ‘love and kindness’ in Sinhalese. “That’s what we wanted to base our work on. No financial gain, no profit, no political motives, no different treatment for different ethnic groups. We simply help those who need help.”

He’s already helped dozens of patients. Some get a simple prosthetic with which they can get their lives back on track, other receive discarded artificial limbs donated by UK hospitals. For them, a whole new life begins. “My people should get the best. Not just a ‘Third World’ artificial limb of inferior quality,” he says.

Through his work, Dr Bandara has gained the trust of many people in the Mannar region, most of whom are Tamil.

“I’m not responsible for being Sinhalese,” he says. “As a Buddhist, I believe this is my karma. I’ve had the opportunity to study and become a doctor. I didn’t ask for it, it just happened.  So it is my duty to use my skills here. The fact that someone is Tamil, white or Sinhalese doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to help people.”

He’ll continue working in Mannar for as long as he’s needed there. “We had a war for 30 years. Now we have a choice: either go back to war, or try to leave it behind us and give peace a chance. I choose the latter. Let people get on with their lives.”

Dr Bandara is also featured on this week's edition of South Asia Wired. Click the icon below (or click here) to listen to the show hosted by Johan van Slooten.

Based on a report from Kannan Arunasalam in Sri Lanka.


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Well Wisher!! 25 March 2012 - 7:20pm

Hats off to you Dr. Bandara. You are a true Buddhist. I really salut your courage to work in war torn area. People like you only can bring good name to blood tainted Lanka! Once again my heart felt graditute to you Doctor Bandara!

Deshamaya 25 March 2012 - 6:59pm

If THE Tamils weer leeft alone without THE Singalese army attacking them, there woud no need for this doctors selfless work. It time for THE UN to step in to THE Island.

Velu Balendran 25 March 2012 - 3:53pm / UK

You are a saint. I raise my two hands in veneration to you

Sinniah Sivagnanasuntharam 25 March 2012 - 2:44pm / germany

As you all envisage ethnic odds cannot be mended unless there is some radical change in the mentality of the leaders ( political as well as RELIGIOUS)of the singalese mass towards co existing with cultural,religious,liguistic rights along with the long standing territorial identities as free but egual partners of the island nations with necessary undersstandings.
As a first step You dr. can teach singalese some lessions of respecting other race,co- existance, yielding to moral values. before undertaking a great taskof changing the mind starta of a perverted set up , as a SIMPLE MATTER OF curing the dicease ...

Sinniah Sivagnanasuntharam 25 March 2012 - 2:27pm / germany

Welcome your selfless service even to tamils, whom your singala brotheren at times avoided serving or misused, but here too it should not be a political propaganda.
After the war let us think of going back to SINGALA only and reconcile from there....
Are you ready??????

Chandran 25 March 2012 - 9:18am / Australia

Thank you Dr Bandara. You put many of us Tamils to shame. May the Triple Gem Bless you and protect you, You are a true Buddhist indeed.

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