A sailor who put his career on hold to pay for medical care for his father has finally gained his dream qualification to prove he is an officer as well as a gentleman.
Murali Balakrishnan has passed exams at South Shields Marine School - six years after using £12,000, meant for course fees and living costs, to cover hospital expenses.
By securing his Officer of the Watch qualification at the world-renowned training venue, he can now look forward to a well-paid life on the ocean waves with the Merchant Navy.
The 34-year-old, from Calicut, southern India, was helped by financial support from the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund.
It operates at South Tyneside College, home to the marine school, and gives short-term financial support to students and linked good causes.
Murali has now returned to Calicut to seek work as an officer of the watch, a deck officer assigned with watchkeeping and navigation duties on a ship.
He said: “I had to look after my family and had no choice but to use my savings for my father’s care. My mother was also ill and I had to support her too.
“I wanted the best care and in India that costs money. It was the right thing to do, but I’m very happy to have finally passed my course at South Shields Marine School.
“I’m very grateful to the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund, whose support made a huge different to my success. Thanks to the fund and the marine school, I’m in a great place to progress my career as an officer.”
Seamus Moran, lecturer in Nautical Studies and Officer of the Watch tutor at South Shields Marine School, said: “Murali has been a great student to teach and was very dedicated to his course. The route by which he has become an officer is a tough one, but he never gave up on that dream and has achieved it. I’m very happy for him.”
Les Watson, who helped found the charitable fund last year, added: “We spoke to Murali and he showed dedication and commitment to his course – he was exactly the type of student we want to help.
“It may seem like quite a lot of money but it’s not when put in context with the difference it has made to his life.
More information on the fund is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0191 427 3717.
*The Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund is named after Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, who was born in South Shields in 1766.
His financial bequest led to the founding of a 19th Century marine school on which South Shields Marine School and South Tyneside College grew.