January 27 2009

"Tsunami village" opens in Thailand

26/01/2009 - SOS Children's Village Phuket was opened on 24 January. It is one of the six that were built in the region after the tsunami disaster. Phuket is mainly remembered as the place where the most tourists lost their lives in the tidal wave. Yet many inhabitants of the coastal region were also seriously affected by the disaster.

Photo: Sebastian Posingis
Still a construction site in 2007... Photo: S. Posingis

The SOS Children's Village in Phuket bears witness to the great international solidarity that was shown towards tsunami victims from both Thailand and abroad, who died there on 26 December 2004. With the help of donations from Germany, Sweden, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Austria "children here are given another chance and a new generation can grow up to be part of Thai society and not be cast aside. The tidal wave caused unbelievable damage to the coastal areas here, but it also triggered an unprecedented sense of duty to help", said the President of SOS Children's Villages, Helmut Kutin, in his opening speech.

In the presence of many guests from Thailand and abroad, the president of SOS Children's Villages Thailand, Norawat Charoen-Rajapark, expressed his thanks for the financial and emotional support that had been given. Thirty five years of experience in Thailand were reflected in the village, which will be another place to protect children in need.

Photo: Angelika Schwaiger
... now children live, play and go to school... it's their home  - Photo: A. Schwaiger

The Austrian ambassador in Thailand still has vivid memories of the tsunami disaster: "It was shocking. But life has to go on. I was very proud when I found out how much SOS Children's Villages had helped in the reconstruction effort - it was very impressive."

Thanks to the many donations, it was not only possible to finance the construction of the SOS Children's Village for 120 children and a kindergarten, but also to cover the running costs for the next decade.

Nine monks (a lucky number to Buddhists) held a Buddhist ceremony to mark its opening. After they had said the prayers, they were served a traditional dinner and given presents. The children and their SOS mothers felt honoured to partake in the ceremony, which they all did with great enthusiasm.

Photo: Angelika Schwaiger
At the traditional prayer ceremony on the opening day in Phuket - Photo: A. Schwaiger

So far, 47 children have been taken into SOS Children's Village Phuket, which will be fully occupied at the end of the year, with 120 children. The SOS kindergarten is currently attended by 50 children, some of whom come from the neighbourhood. Guy, the youngest child in the SOS Children's Village, is just two weeks old. His mother is single and felt she simply could not cope, which is why Guy was sent to the SOS Children's Village by the social welfare services. He is not the only one with this fate. Many women who have been brought up in a very traditional way come from regions far away to find work in tourism. If they then get pregnant, many cannot cope without the support of their families and so far away from home. Some children come from broken homes and others are victims of the tsunami and its consequences.

Photo: Sebastian Posingis
120 children can live a carefree life at the new SOS Children's Village in Phuket - Photo: S. Posingis

In addition to the project in Thailand, new SOS Children's Villages were set up in India (Nagapattinam, Puducherry) and in Indonesia (Meulaboh, Banda Aceh, Medan), as were a number of other social facilities that are mainly aimed at families in need. In parallel, around 23,000 people received direct support in the form of different types of emergency relief, and over 2,200 houses, multi-purpose centres and two schools have been built. Twenty-one national SOS Children's Village associations received a total of 54.2 million US dollars for emergency relief and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand following the tsunami.