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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 13:35 GMT
Tsunami orphans look to future
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Baan Nam Khem, Thailand

Mesa (left) and his friend Thamanoon
Mesa (left) is one of many tsunami orphans in Baan Nam Khem
Watching 10-year-old Mesa laugh, arm-in-arm with his best friend, it is hard to imagine that a year ago he lost both his parents when the tsunami hit the coast of Thailand.

"I cried at first, but now I don't any more," he said.

"I still miss my mother and father though," he added quietly.

It is perhaps even more difficult for children slightly older than Mesa to come to terms with the loss of their parents.

"I still get upset," said 13-year-old Suwanee, who lost more than 20 relatives in the disaster. "It was Fathers' Day [recently] and that made me cry again."

In the spotlight

Mesa and Suwanee are just some of the children in the small fishing town of Baan Nam Khem who were orphaned by the tsunami.

Many others lost relatives, and 27 of the 419 students in the local school died.

Before 26 December 2004, the school was typical of many along this stretch of the Thai coastline, attended by the children of local fishermen and workers in nearby tourist resorts.

Baan Nam Khem pupil with schoolbooks

But then the tsunami hit, wiping out 60% of Baan Nam Khem's residents and thrusting the school into the spotlight for being in the area of Thailand worst affected by the disaster.

The school itself was badly flooded, and the old structure is no longer in use.

One year on, a new, state-of-the-art building stands alongside, paid for by a French supermarket chain.

Where once the facilities were fairly basic, the school now boasts a computer room, library and several volunteer English teachers.

But of course, a new school cannot make the hurt and pain of the tsunami disappear.

According to the headmaster, Thavich Jitprasarn, many pupils still get upset on birthdays and other special days.

"They are all still very interested in earthquakes and tsunamis - often monitoring when they happen around the world," he said.

According to Mr Jitprasarn, life for the children of Baan Nam Khem is slowly settling back into a routine.

Most of those who lost one or both parents - including Mesa and Suwanee - now live with members of their extended family and are fitting into their new homes, he said.

Desha Nuansang with photographs of just some of his relatives who died in the tsunami
Desha Nuansang is very worried about his 14-year-old nephew Jay
Others have gone to a nearby school in Baan Bang Sak - which has boarding facilities and is now home to more than 600 children.

The original Baan Bang Sak school was flattened in the tsunami, and a much larger building is now being rebuilt further away from the beach.

Some of the pupils are there because their parents died, but many others live at the school because their families cannot look after them - through lack of money or because they have left the area in search of employment.

Lasting concerns

Despite all the options available to children affected by the tsunami, some have inevitably slipped through the net of the care on offer.

One Baan Nam Khem resident, Desha Nuansang, was at a loss to know what to do with his 14-year-old nephew, Jay.

Both Jay's parents died in the tsunami, as well as his brother and sister, and he is now in the care of Mr Nuangsang - who himself is trying to cope with the loss of his wife and only child.

"I worry. Jay drives around so fast on motorbikes, and he doesn't go to school," Mr Nuangsang said.

I want to be a doctor. It's what my father wanted me to do
Suwanee, 13
"Often he just comes here to eat, and then leaves, as he doesn't like the fact my house is by the sea.

"He never talks to me, so I don't know how he is feeling, but I worry about him a lot."

Nantana Lotong, who teaches at Baan Nam Khem school, is also concerned about some of her pupils.

"One girl who lost her mother is feeling particularly bad right now because her father is going out with a new woman, and she's worried she'll be sent away," she said.

She added that one of her lasting concerns was for the teenagers who had spent most of the last year living together in temporary housing.

"At least one girl at this school got pregnant. She doesn't come to school anymore - I don't know what's happened to her now," she said.

Looking forwards

Despite the tragedy of the tsunami, many of the children hit hardest by this terrible disaster can still imagine a future for themselves.

After spending all her life living in a small fishing community, 13-year-old Namtip has flown to Bangkok three times this year to attend commemorative events as a representative of the so-called tsunami orphans.

The experience of flying - something she had never done before and was never likely to, if the disaster had not happened - has inspired her.

"I want to be an air hostess when I'm older," she said. "I love planes, and I really love the uniform."

Other children are still clinging to the dreams they had before the tsunami took their parents away.

"I want to be a doctor. It's what my father wanted me to do," said Suwanee.

"He still talks to me about it in my dreams."


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