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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 02:30 GMT 03:30 UK
Thai child survivors face the future
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Khao Lak

Thoon Navarak and his son Anasorn
Little Anasorn Navarak is worried there could be another tsunami
The Navarak family can usually be found in their small hut in Khuk Khak refugee camp - along with many other Thais who lost their homes in December's tsunami.

But for most of last Thursday, eight-year-old Anasorn was missing.

He had fled to the hills earlier in the day after a tsunami warning, and only returned several hours later.

"He's still really scared," said Anasorn's father Thoon Navarak. "Whenever there's a rumour about another wave, he runs away and doesn't come back for ages."

"He survived the tsunami by floating on a piece of wood. He climbed into a tree, but when the water went down again he had to wait several hours before he was rescued. It's not something he can just forget."

Children at Baan Nam Khem school
Baan Nam Khem children manage to smile despite their ordeal
Anasorn and thousands like him are struggling to cope with the reality of what happened on that fateful day in December, when more than 6,000 people died on the shores of western Thailand.

Three months on, a variety of measures have been put in place to help children like Anasorn get over their ordeal.

Children's centres have been set up in refugee camps, trained psychologists have been brought in to counsel those who have lost loved ones, and school teachers have been trying to regain the trust of pupils whose lives have been turned upside down.

Thavich Jitprasarn, the director of the primary school in Baan Nam Khem - one of the villages worst hit by the tsunami - said his pupils were gradually beginning to feel better.

"Children move on very quickly," he said. "But many of them still don't really want to talk about what happened."

"The older children, especially, are finding it difficult to cope," he said. "The little ones don't understand everything fully, but maybe when they grow up they will feel sad for the people they have lost."

The school in Baan Nam Khem was badly damaged, and pupils are still being taught in the open air while new classrooms are being built.

But the emotional scars will take longer to heal. In all, 27 of the school's 419 students died, and almost every pupil knows lost at least one friend. Seven lost both their parents.

Mr Jitprasarn said he had reopened the school on 4 January - less than two weeks after the disaster - in order to give the children a sense of normality.

"We didn't really teach much in the beginning. We just talked about what had happened, and found out where they were living and if they were okay," he said.

"We're now back to about 70% of normal teaching, which I think is good considering what happened."

Trips to the sea

Outside school hours, various aid agencies have set up child-orientated centres in some of the camps for those made homeless in the disaster.


"With the little children, we spend time singing and painting. But with older children, we just talk to them about their problems," said Phakamas Kamcham, a staff member at the centre in Thaptawan camp.

"They are gradually getting over it," she said, "but they will never forget."

"One thing we're really trying to encourage them to do is go back to the sea," she said.

"To start with we just took them to the beach to see the sunset. Then the staff went swimming, and finally some of the children did as well."

But for some, the sea is still a dangerous place.

Udon Pradit said his 13-year-old son Manroit was unable to go anywhere near the beach. "He has nightmares about it," he said.

Three-year-old Charnathip is also afraid of the sea, even though he was far away when the tsunami happened.

"When we got back home, he ran in to what remained of our house before we could stop him, and he saw the dead bodies of his cousin and his uncle," said Charnathip's mother Songdao Ponkaen.

"Only yesterday he asked if the tsunami was coming back again."

Donated gifts

With a disaster on the scale of December's tsunami, international attention is inevitably drawn to the areas which are worst affected.

They are gradually getting over it, but they will never forget
Phakamas Kamcham, Thaptawan camp

One of them, Khao Lak, has received large amounts of aid from foreign donors to help children who survived the tsunami.

It is now common to see youngsters circling their families' temporary homes on brand-new bicycles, and going to school in crisp new uniforms.

"Before the tsunami, Baan Nam Khem was a small fishing village. Now everyone knows who we are, and we are getting donations of things we never had before," said Mr Jitprasarn.

"A French supermarket chain is paying for a brand new school which will even have a gym, and many other organisations have also promised to help us," he said.

But whilst beneficial, the aid cannot take away the children's sadness.

"All the new things we're getting are really nice," said Mr Jitprasarn, "but they can't compare with what these children have lost."




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