By Natthinee Rodraksa
PHANG NGA, October 2005 – Early each weekday morning, people living near Wat Kommaneeyaket School can look out their windows to see a tiny girl in a school uniform driving by on a motorcycle with her mother riding on the back.
The petite driver is 10-year-old Pai, and her mother, Mali, is the only close relative she has left since her father was swept away in the tsunami.
Mali, 44, still weeps every time she thinks about the catastrophe that took away her husband, the family’s breadwinner.
“At that time, I didn’t know what to do next,” Mali says. “But when I heard that my daughter’s school had gotten support from UNICEF to hire a temporary cleaner, I applied for it without even knowing the salary. I wanted to be able to support my family and be near my daughter all the time.”
Devastated by the loss of husband and father, Mali and Pai gave tremendous emotional support to each other to get through the tragedy.
“Pai became depressed and quiet for several months after the tsunami because she missed her father,” Mali says. “But thanks to my getting the cleaning job, I could comfort her when she got sad at school.”
“She also supports me when I’m sad. When I cry, she dries my tears and encourages me to move on,” Mali says.
The already strong bond between mother and daughter has now grown even stronger. They hardly leave each other’s sides.
“I am so happy that my mother is working at my school because I can be close to her, Pai says. “I missed her when she worked at a resort. I want her to be with me all the time.”
In addition to Mali’s salary, UNICEF has supported the salaries of 19 teachers and 11 cleaners at affected schools in Phang Nga Province alone. UNICEF is also providing education grants to Pai and children like her to pay for books, uniforms and school-related costs, and to help ensure they remain with extended families and in school.
“I am very grateful to UNICEF for helping Pai and me,” says Mali. “The grant will be used only for Pai’s education. I want her to have as good an education as possible.”
Pai, who brightens when the talk turns to her future education, says: “I want to continue studying until I get a Bachelor’s Degree. When I finish my degree, I’ll get a good job. I like mathematics and hope one day to become a businesswoman. Then, I’ll have a good job and can take care of my mother.”