A refreshing change
By Natthinee Rodraksa
PHANG NGA, October 2005 – Like her schoolmates, 11-year-old Aye heads out into the scorching midday sun to take part in Baan Bang Muang School’s first “sports day” for several years.
Exhausted after a game of volleyball, Aye refreshes herself with big gulps of crystal-clear drinking water – a basic necessity that the students at the school were previously denied, unless they could afford to pay for bottled water.
“It’s so good that our school has clean drinking water available all the time now,” says Aye, drawing another glass to quench her thirst. “The water from the tap used to be dirty and rusty, and it tasted awful.”
For the students of Baan Bang Muang, the availability of clean drinking water at the school is a sign that things are indeed getting better. The December 2004 tidal waves took the lives of 51 of the school’s students and orphaned 54 others. No school in Thailand suffered a greater human toll.
Before the tsunami, the school relied on an underground water source, which was pumped up and stored in an old tank built in 1960. Students who did not want to drink this foul-tasting liquid had regularly to contribute one baht each to buy clean drinking water.
“One baht may not seem like much, but it is for some of my friends who are very poor,” Aye explains.
Thanit Thippitak, the school’s director, says many students at the school previously suffered from stomach aches and diarrhoea.
“We didn’t know why until we were told by the water inspectors from the District Health Office that the school’s water was contaminated with rust.”
The problem worsened after the tsunami, when students and hundreds of humanitarian personnel using the school as an operational base needed clean water.
UNICEF responded by installing a filtering and purification system that provides a steady supply of clean water. Another six schools in the tsunami-affected provinces were provided with support for water supply improvements.
Thanit believes the water system is the best tsunami assistance the school has received.
“Just look at our students… they are healthier, happier and enjoying sports day.” He says. “When they are tired and thirsty, they have clean water to drink and refresh themselves. This is definitely helping them to recover from the tsunami – both physically and mentally.”