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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Children going back to school in Thailand

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Nettleton
Students from Ban Nam Kem School wait in military trucks to be taken home.
PATONG BEACH, Thailand, 14 January 2005 – In classrooms of Baan Kalim School – swept through by the surging waters of the tsunami not even three weeks ago – students are back at their desks.

The school, which stands only a few dozen metres from the sands of Phuket Island’s Patong Beach, managed to reopen on schedule following the New Year holiday. The school lost one of its two buildings to the tsunami, but its teachers count the school as one of the luckier ones: none of its students or staff died.

While Baan Kalim School has managed to get back up and running quickly, many students are still nervous about studying so close to the sea.

Panudda Srikocha, nine, lost her home in the disaster and nearly lost her father. He was out fishing when the waves hit and was swept inland onto a utility pole. Fortunately for him, there was no electricity in the lines. Panudda says she is happy to be back among friends, but she is still afraid the waves might come again.

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Nettleton
Students at Ban Nam Kem School in southern Thailand board military trucks to return to their temporary homes at a relief camp.
UNICEF’s Thailand office estimates that fewer than 50 schools were hit by the tsunami, and only 12 of them seriously damaged. But attendance remains low. Only about half of the students returned to school on schedule in the first week of 2005.

“Schools are the second most important institution for these children after their own family. Teachers are like second parents to them,” said Programme Coordinator for UNICEF Thailand Andrew Morris. “It’s vitally important that all these children go back to school, back to an environment with which they are very familiar.”

In Bang Sak, about two hours drive north along the coast from Phuket, teachers and members of the community are pitching in to get classes back in session. After the village school was levelled in the disaster, third grade teacher Ladda Thondee opened her garage as a makeshift school. About 80 students from all grades crowd into the small space, which is already cluttered with boxes of donated food and school supplies.

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Nettleton
Third grade teacher Ladda Thondee has opened her garage as a makeshift classroom for the students of Bang Sak School, which was destroyed by the tsunami.
Yet finding place for classes may be the easy part. Getting the children to overcome their fears will likely take much longer.

In the devastated fishing village of Ban Nam Kem, teachers could at first hardly round up enough students to hold a class. About a quarter of the school’s 400 students are dead or missing. Teachers say almost another quarter of the students are staying home. The school’s buildings survived with superficial damage, but parts of it have been occupied by the military.

Ten-year-old Sirirat Sooksri is one of nearly 200 students who have returned to the school. She says she wanted to get back to class so she wouldn’t forget what she’s learned. But seeing so many empty seats upsets her.

“I wonder why my friends didn’t come to school,” says Sirirat. “How many are missing, and how many are left in class? Why there are so few students here?”

Most of Ban Nam Kem’s surviving students live in a relief camp three kilometres away. When many failed to turn up for class on the first day of school this year, UNICEF met with local officials and teachers to consider how to get them back to school. The Thai military intervened, turning transport trucks into school buses. Now, every day children are taken to school, and back again to their temporary home in the camp, by a military convoy.

With help from UNICEF, the Thai government and local communities, more and more children are again putting on their backpacks and heading off for school.




14 January 2005: Children are going back to school in tsunami-devastated southern Thailand.

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