The ‘amazing’ mum who fled two civil wars and ended up running a Flintshire petrol station
by Kelly Williams, Daily Post, UK, September 19, 2020
Shanty Yoganathan’s daughter Niz shared her mum’s incredible tale as she gets set to celebrate her 50th birthday
A proud daughter has shared the extraordinary tale of how her mum fled civil war twice and ended up running a village petrol station in North Wales.
Niz Yoganathan wanted to reflect on mum Shanty’s incredible journey as a surprise for her 50th birthday.
It’s a story that takes her from Sri Lanka to Beirut, the Netherlands and latterly Trelawnyd in Flintshire, where the family bought the village petrol station.
Along the way, the mother-of-three learned three languages – Arabic, Dutch and English.
Niz explained: “My family are Tamil from Sri Lanka and, when the civil war started when my mum was 10, Tamils were treated like second class citizens.
“My mum recalls walking home from school with Government armies and Tamils shooting at each other.
“She was one of eight children and her parents used what little savings they had to pay agents for documents to allow her to flee the South Asian island.
“But it took three attempts before she was able to leave on her 18th birthday because the agents kept making off with the money.”
Shanty escaped to Beirut in Lebanon and sought refuge with a family who owned a textile factory.
They gave her a roof over her head and, in exchange, she worked in their shop and looked after the family’s elderly mother.
Niz added: “When she found herself settling into life in Beirut in 1990, she optimistically went to a photography studio to take a photo to send home to prove that she was alive and doing well.
“Soon after sending this to her family back home, who were themselves struggling in the war, she received a response that her mother had passed away two months prior, but they did not want to tell her in fear that she may return to Sri Lanka.”
Shortly afterwards, Shanty met Niz’s father Yogan, who is also Tamil Sri Lankan.
“She saw smoke rising and news broke that a civil war had also erupted in Lebanon,” explained Niz.
“My parents found civil war to be following them and could not stay there as the violence had escalated.”
Together, the couple left Beirut and fled to mainland Europe for safety.
They ended up in the Netherlands where they got married and had two daughters in Amsterdam Hospital.
“My dad was working various jobs including in the tulip fields and in a plastic factory, and my mum was working in a dairy factory,” said Niz.
“She learned Dutch and, having gone through the immigration process and being familiar with the council and the residents in the area, my mum would often be called in to help other Tamil refugees with their applications.”
But after more than a decade in the Netherlands, Shanty and Yogan decided to move to the UK.
Niz, 22, said: “My parents risked all of their savings and invested in a run-down petrol station in Trelawnyd in 2002.
“On arrival to Wales, my mum did not even realise it had its own language. Safe to say she struggled with the road signs!
“But the neighbourhood embraced this new Sri Lankan addition into what was a predominantly white village, and the petrol station ended up being a risk worth taking as my mum is now settled here.
“A lady called Ada Luke, who has worked at the petrol station for a long time, adopted us as her children and grandchildren.
“Mum saw Ada as a mother figure and me and my siblings see her as the grandma we never had.”
Shanty and Yogan went on to have another son in 2006 and all three of their children went to Trelawnyd VA School and quickly picked up Welsh.
Niz’s sister went to Bangor University, while she herself is in London training to be a barrister.