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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Thailand: Psychosocial activities help children cope with tragedy

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Few
Jaree plays with UNICEF-donated sports equipment at Bang Muang School.

By Robert Few

BANN NAM KHEM, Thailand, 21 June 2005 – At first glance, Bang Muang School in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province looks as though it escaped lightly from the tsunami. There is no obvious damage to buildings and classes are being held as usual. But 51 children from this school died in the disaster and another 47 were orphaned. The loss of loved ones and friends still scars the pupils here.

Jaree is one of those pupils. A bright, sociable child, she was devastated when her mother drowned. She lives in a one-room temporary house with her two brothers and father, who was injured in the tsunami and is too sick to work. Her youngest brother clung to driftwood for eight hours before being rescued.

Her fellow pupil, Panupong, has a story just as sad. His father died in the tsunami. Just one month later his mother passed away as well. Now he has to help his aunt rebuild her house so that he and his sister will have somewhere to live.

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Few
UNICEF is helping children like Panupong come to terms with their loss.

Jaree and Panupong live in the fishing village of Bann Nam Khem, where some 1,500 people died, including 500 children. Although the physical damage to houses and fishing boats is being repaired, the psychological scars will take longer to heal.

Friends helping friends

Jaree and Panupong have both been helped by UNICEF-supported counselling sessions. Expert teams have visited Bang Muang School three times to run games and activities designed to help children come to terms with loss and recover a sense of normalcy.

These activities bring together children who lost parents or siblings to the tsunami with children who did not, so that friends can lend support to those who have suffered.

“Before the sessions, my nephew said he wanted to kill himself because his mother was dead,” says Kanda Thanmathato, one of the teachers at Bang Muang School, who has had to hide her own grief in order to offer encouragement to her students.

“But after the counselling sessions, he said he no longer wanted to kill himself because he realized there are still people who care about him. He is feeling much better now and wants to spend time with his friends and work hard at his studies.”

Memories of the disaster

Principal Jitdee Thongsaen has also been impressed by the results of the counselling. “I’m no psychiatrist, but I can see the beneficial effect these sessions have had on the children,” he said. “After the tsunami, the children here were very depressed and listless. But now the whole atmosphere of the school has improved.”

In addition to grief, the children of Bang Muang School have also had to overcome fear. The sound of sirens could be heard intermittently for days after the disaster.

Kanda Thanmathato says that every time an ambulance or police car went by, many children feared another tsunami. “We had to reassure them all the time that tsunamis are not something that happens every day.”

Jaree, Panupong and the other children of Bang Muang School will need a lot of strength for the future. Jaree is emphatic about how much the counselling sessions have helped: “Without them, I wouldn’t have had the encouragement I need to carry on.”




13 June 2005:
UNICEF New York correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on psychosocial support for Thai children after the tsunami.

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