Krystal Sirman

Krystal Sirman (Survivor Corps in Jordan): Krystal is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she graduated from Louisiana State University in 2004 with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. During her undergraduate student, Krystal served as director of Africa Initiative, a student organization, and led 12 university students to Ghana for three months during the summer of 2004 to volunteer. The same year, she participated in the Africa Initiative’s Ghana program for three weeks as a volunteer. Krystal received her Master’s degree in international development from The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in May 2008. As part of her studies, she travelled to Bangladesh for three weeks to conduct research for her Master’s Capstone Project. After her fellowship, Krystal wrote: "The best part of my fellowship was visiting the few survivors I had the opportunity to visit, as well as spending time with the youth during the summer camp. Every person I met was so positive and confident, and definitely taught me to appreciate what I have and who I am."

The Story of a Super Survivor

04 Aug

Suraya is a beautiful and shy 21-year-old cancer survivor whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the youth summer camp organized by LSN-JO. I never imagined that three weeks later I would be sitting in Suraya’s parents’ living room with her, her mother, Shireen (Suraya’s LSN social worker), Ahmed (Network Partnership Manager from LSN (Survivor Corps) headquarters in DC), and Majdi (Suraya’s Outreach Worker). Ahmed was here for three weeks assisting LSN-JO with the localization process, and he wanted to visit some survivors in order to gauge their involvement with the organization.

Suraya got cancer when she was 14 years old. She was taken out of school, provided with chemotherapy treatments, which resulted in the loss of her hair, and eventually had to have her right arm amputated. As if all of this was not hard enough, Suraya has an identical twin sister, whose health made her daily struggle with bitterness, anger, and sorrow even more challenging.

Fortunately, Suraya is blessed with a loving and supportive family, as well as with the assistance and support of LSN-JO. Both Suraya and her mother explained how Suraya’s involvement with LSN-JO has helped her to become more confident in herself and to overcome the negative feelings she had during those difficult years. In this sense, Suraya exemplifies what is known as “post-traumatic growth” – in essence, a beautiful paradox in which trauma survivors mature and develop in positive and meaningful ways despite the tragedy they have experienced.

With the support of LSN-JO, Suraya has triumphed over numerous adversities, not least of which is the conquering of those negative thoughts and feelings. Another major achievement has been the slow, yet continual breaking down of the gender barrier. Suraya comes from a traditional Muslim family, and she and her sisters are not allowed to engage in certain activities outside of the house, such as working, without their father’s permission. However, because of the work that LSN-JO has done with Suraya and her family, her father has come to trust the organization and allows Suraya to participate in LSN-JO activities and events on a regular basis, even those that would place her in the company of members of the opposite sex. The summer camp four weeks ago is a prime example; even Suraya’s 16-year-old sister was permitted to attend the camp. A second example is Suraya’s involvement in a cancer survivor group that meets on a monthly basis to discuss their experiences, feelings, difficulties, and successes. During our visit, Suraya expressed how much she enjoyed the cancer survivor group and how she was proud to be able to help others throughout their recovery process. Participating in these and other activities has enabled Suraya to grow not only as a cancer survivor, but also as a strong, beautiful young woman in a strict, male-dominated society. While she may not be completely convinced that she is a “super survivor,” there is absolutely no doubt in my mind.

Posted By Krystal Sirman

Posted Aug 4th, 2008


  • Heather Dolstra

    August 5, 2008


    The tragedies left behind by constant war, and now the universal tragedies of diseases that hit too young… These are realities that should inform our local and national governments and dictate policy. I marvel at your lack of rancor. Maybe you chew up the furniture when no one is looking. It is truly remarkable to read how Suraya’s illness and subsequent experiences have changed the dynamic in her family and the way the members relate to the outside world. You write eloquently. Can’t wait for the next installment.

  • Heather Dolstra

    August 5, 2008


    PS/I forgot to say, re: your comment about foreigners often knowing more about our local politics than our own citizens…I agree and sometimes think we should let them elect our next president!

  • Kate

    August 7, 2008


    I saw the article in the newspaper about your work, and was so excited to hear about all you are doing to help victims of landmines. I am proud to know you! All the best,
    Kate Brumfield Freeman

  • Krystal

    August 10, 2008


    Heather, sorry for the delay in moderating my comments! I was out of Amman for several days, spending some of my last moments here in Jordan enjoying my favorite place, Wadi Rum. But I want to thank you for the encouraging words and I am thrilled to know that you (and others) are sharing what I have experienced and learned with other people. If nothing else, that has made my whole time here worthwhile.

  • Heather Dolstra

    August 12, 2008


    Hello Krystal,
    I think I missed when you were returning to the U.S. You have so much to offer, I hope you find a really rewarding job. Will there be a “closing” blog from you before you leave Jordan?

  • Krystal

    August 18, 2008


    Hi Heather,

    I returned to the States on Thursday, August 15th (about 31 hours after I was originally supposed to – that story will be posted in a few days), and then had to leave the following morning to go to my friends’ wedding in North Carolina. I just returned today.

    While I was hoping to post another blog or two before I left, I simply ran out of time. I have one blog I’m going to post about an LSN-JO survivor who is an Iraqi refugee – a very touching and inspiring story. I should have that up tomorrow. And then I’m planning on posting a final blog reflecting on my entire summer, what I learned, what it meant to me, etc.

    PS. Thanks for the job well wishes – I’m still looking! 🙂

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