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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 January, 2005, 00:25 GMT
Trauma of Thai child survivors
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Krabi

Saturday was Children's Day in Thailand, although it was hardly a celebration for many of the children in the tsunami-ravaged regions of the west coast.

Siriam, 12, and Boui, 10, who lost their mothers in the tsunami (Photo: Dirk Peters)
Many children have lost everything in the disaster
Twelve-year-old Siriam and 10-year-old Boui lost their mothers in the disaster, as well as their homes.

"People said the earth was splitting, and I could hear everyone screaming," said Siriam.

"I went out to see what was happening and someone grabbed my arm and took me up the hill."

Her mother was not so lucky. She is assumed to be dead, but her remains have yet to be found.

The body of Boui's mother was discovered soon after the disaster, impaled on a piece of wood.

Despite their loss, Siriam and Boui, like many other children from the tsunami-hit island of Phi Phi, still found the strength to take part in a special Children's Day event at Uttarakij School, in the town of Krabi.


The children danced, sang, ate sweets and listened to a speech by the guest-of-honour, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Sutham Saengpratoom - all designed to make them forget their traumatic experiences.

The children of Phi Phi have lived through the almost complete devastation of their island.

Child survivors of the tsunami at Uttarakij School, in Krabi, Thailand

The destruction was so complete that almost every islander is now living on the mainland, in and around Krabi.

Children's Day celebrations took place in all the Thai regions affected by the tsunami, but the atmosphere was clearly different to that of previous years.

"There was less music and dancing, and more of a priority was given to providing psychological help to children affected by the disaster," said Suphinda Chakraband, who has helped to co-ordinate the aid effort to children on the island of Phuket.

Many have had such horrific experiences that they are likely to need help for a long time to come.

"One of the children at our school lost his heavily pregnant mother. Another lost both his parents and two of his sisters," said Sura Taaweephan, who taught at the junior school in Phi Phi.

Even those who had not lost family members were still in shock.

Juran Udom, 14, and his brother, aged seven
Juran, aged 14, has become his family's sole breadwinner
Twelve-year-old Maleewan Kebutr is now far more subdued than she was before the disaster, and said she was afraid of another tsunami.

She was also frightened of going too near the sea. "I don't want to go swimming again," she said.

Other children, like Juran Udom - who now lives in a camp for displaced people near Bang Muang - are in urgent need of assistance.

Fourteen-year-old Juran is now his family's sole breadwinner. His mother has not been seen since the disaster and is assumed dead.

His father had a motorcycle accident last year, and Juran has been left to care for both his seven-year-old brother and his sick grandfather.

Not only has he had to cope with the horrific experience of surviving the tsunami by climbing on the roof of his house and being washed into a tree, he now has to face the reality of fending for himself and two dependents.

Free education

Nearly two weeks on from the disaster, the authorities have had time to decide how to help orphans and other children suffering as a result of the tsunami.

Deputy Interior Minister Sutham Saengpratoom, who was at the Krabi Children's Day celebrations with the deputy prime minister, said the government was committed to providing full assistance.

Sukdee Tangtongsawat, school director (photo: Dirk Peters)
Ms Tangtongsawat says children need to talk about their experience
He cited the Thai king's Rachprachanukroh Foundation, which aims to build new schools and provide children affected by the disaster with free education.

Prajak Changreua, the director of education services for Krabi, said he wanted to make sure that all the region's children could still go to school.

Orphaned children would have the option of going to a special boarding school in Krabi, he added, and all children in tsunami-affected areas would be given free lunches and access to counselling services.

"It's important to keep children in school right now, because their school is like their second home. They know people and feel safe," he said.

"It also gives us a clearer picture of who is still missing, and who is in need of our help."

He added that a new school would eventually be built on Phi Phi, so families could go back - if they still wanted to live there.

Many are thinking twice about living on the island, frightened of another tsunami - but according to Sukdee Tangtongsawat, the director of Phi Phi's primary school, it would be better for the island's children if the local community stayed together.

"They need to talk with other people who have been in the same situation," she said.

Teachers, officials, charity groups and local communities are all trying to help Thai children cope in the wake of the tsunami - but no matter how hard they try there are bound to be some children who slip through the net, and continue to suffer alone.

Juran Udom has already refused an offer of a place in a special children's centre because he needs to look after his grandfather.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said simply. "But I don't think I'll ever go back to school."


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