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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006, 01:49 GMT
Southern Thailand's 'Widow Farm'
By Will Baxter
In Narathiwat, southern Thailand

Nisah Dooramean has a new home and a new life in southern Thailand, but it is no compensation for what she has lost.

Nisah's husband Nima, a local fish merchant, was killed in December 2004 in a shooting blamed on Muslim insurgents.

Nisah
Nisah is raising five children on her own

Such incidents have become daily events in Thailand's south, where more than 1,000 people have been killed over the last two years in violence blamed on insurgents and the security forces.

Nisah, a Thai Muslim and mother of five, now lives in a village for widows near Rotan Batu in Muang district, Narathiwat province.

The village, dubbed the 'Widow Farm' by locals, is sponsored by the Thai royal family and is currently home to the widows of 103 men killed during the insurgency in three Muslim-majority southern provinces - Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.

The project was launched in September 2004 by Thailand's Queen Sirikit, who donated 20m baht ($514,000) of her own money to purchase the land on which the village is now located.

The primary purpose of the village is to provide the widows - who would struggle to make a living by themselves - with housing and independence.

The village, covering 271 acres, is now self-sufficient, with residents living off the land and profits from fruit and vegetables they sell at local markets.

In addition to a house, the women receive two rai (less than one acre) of land, on which many grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and rice, or raise ducks and chickens.

A demonstration farm has also been developed so the widows and their children can learn about cultivation.

Although the widows' village is not seen as a particular target for insurgents, it is guarded 24 hours a day by Thai military personnel, with multiple check-points to give the residents peace of mind.

As a precautionary measure, the families - all but one or two of whom are Muslim - also do not do business on Fridays. This is because suspected militants threatened traders with reprisals if they worked on the Muslim holy day.

'Solidarity'

Janjira Prasatsin, whose police officer husband Kanook was shot and killed on 8 October, 2004, was positive about her new home.

Cherotipah Tearok holds a photograph of her husband, police officer Asan Tearok
The widows have to start new lives

"There is a feeling of solidarity... unity," she said.

The village is located along the Bang Nara River, about 20 minutes from Narathiwat town, and stands out from the rural setting.

Set against a backdrop of mangroves, rubber plantations and dense jungle, the uniform white homes are built duplex-style, with a concrete foundation, living quarters upstairs and a carport and open-air kitchen area downstairs.

The final goal of the project is to build 150 homes, and these are due to be completed soon.

One of the widows, Sokoh Sathidok, spoke about her husband Awee with exhaustion in her voice. Awee was killed in April 2004 in Sungai Padi district, leaving Sokoh a young daughter to care for.

Sokoh Sathidok holds her daughter's hand
Sokoh Sathidok was left to care for a young daughter

"My husband was not army, not police," she said. "There was no reason for his death."

Each woman living in the village reacted differently when speaking about their loss.

Nisah carried herself with a reserved grace, bringing her children closer to sit next to her. In Sokoh's voice there was a sense of fatigue, while Janjira spoke very quietly, and towards the end of our discussion, fought to hold back tears.

But with each there was an unspoken sense of what the others had gone through, a common history of circumstance. And now, a place to lean on each other as well.


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