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Schools under attack in southern Thailand

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/ Rodraksa
One of the elementary schools in Yala province which was destroyed by an arson attack in 2004.

By Natthinee Rodraksa

YALA, Thailand, 16 August 2005 – Students returning to Ban School outside this provincial capital after a long summer break were looking forward to their first day back. Instead they were shocked to find that their school had been reduced to a heap of charred ruins by an arson attack.

Nee, an 11-year-old student, remembers that day well: “We were sad and crying over the loss of our school. It was our first day back… but our school was gone.”

Some 4,400 children have lost their schools, text books and school supplies due to arson. Ban School is one of 56 schools that have been damaged or destroyed by arson attacks in Thailand’s five southernmost provinces since renewed violence broke out in early 2004.

Another loss has been the children’s sense of security. Twelve-year-old Sa said he “doesn’t dare” go outside his home after 8 p.m. or walk to school alone in the morning.

Attacks have not been limited to school buildings – some 70 education personnel, including teachers, school administrators and custodial staff, have been assaulted.

Police say that the overall frequency of violence in the southern provinces is on the rise, as approximately 200 people were killed and another 600 people injured as a result of violent incidents during the first six months of 2005.

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/ Rodraksa
Students attend a class in the temporary facility set up after their school was destroyed.

‘I have to leave’

The Thai government has been erecting temporary school facilities where schools have been badly damaged or destroyed, and has also provided replacement educational materials. UNICEF has supplied football, volleyball, and badminton equipment for 30 of the affected schools to ensure students will continue to have recreational opportunities.

Ban school is now operating from a temporary facility, and a new, permanent schoolhouse will eventually be built to replace the one that was destroyed.

Some schools are being closed early to avoid the need for teachers to travel late in the day or the early evening.  “That means the children are not receiving the opportunity for an education that they should be,” said Somchai, Acting Director of Ban School.

The government has placed many schools under the protection of security forces. Nevertheless, over 3,500 teachers working in the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwas have expressed a desire to be transferred elsewhere.

“My parents are very concerned about my safety and would like me to move,” says Tip, a science teacher at the Ban School. “As much as I love the children here, I have to leave.”

Nong, one of Tip’s adoring students, understands why her teacher wants to leave but is still begging her to stay. “When Tip leaves, who is going to teach us?”

(Names in this story have been changed.)



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