Orphaned by the tsunami, a child in Thailand finds new hope

News and Press Release
Originally published
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By Rob McBride

PHANG NGA PROVINCE, Thailand, 23 December 2009 - In a remote corner of Phang Nga Province, nine-year-old Pimolpan and her aunt, Sanit Boontam, talk quietly on the porch of their small house. However, it was not always this way.

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When Pimolpan was two-years-old, her mother died of HIV/AIDS. Five years ago, she lost her father in the tsunami. When Pimolpan first came to live with her aunt as a toddler, she was afraid of everything.

"At first she even refused milk," said Ms. Boontam. "But when she saw my two children hugging me, eventually she wanted to do the same because she missed her mother so much."

A new life

Despite her terrible loss, Pimolpan has settled into her new life. She performs well in school. Sitting in class with her fellow pupils, she is bright and attentive.

"I like school very much, and mathematics is my favourite subject," Pimolpan said. "I have lots of friends there and I enjoy playing."

In Phang Nga, UNICEF supports a pilot project on child protection monitoring. Since the tsunami, child protection services have been extended and improved in this and other affected districts, benefiting Pimolpan and many other children.

Under the project, social workers are recruited and trained at the community level to monitor the well-being of orphans and to ensure that other vulnerable children receive care and support.

A living memorial

The child protection systems put in place here are being scaled up to the national level - a fitting, living memorial to those who died five years ago.

On a beach nearby, a permanent memorial wall to tsunami victims highlights the international nature of the tragedy in Thailand. Among the names and photos of the many who died, the memorial records the loss of tourists from countries around the world. Many of the photographs are of children.

For one nine-year-old Thai girl, the pain persists but has become bearable. Back on their porch, Pimolpan's small hands massage her aunt's back.

"She watches me doing this, and copies it," Ms. Boontam explains. Providing massages for neighbours is how this charismatic caregiver supports herself, Pimolpan and her own two children. The pay is meagre, but the loving family environment this work supports is truly priceless.