PHANG NGA, Thailand (Reuters) - An orphanage in southern Thailand has been Watana Sittirachot’s home since 2004, when a deadly tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people, including many of his family members, in one of the biggest natural disasters in recent history.
Now 27, Watana has been running the Baan Than Namchai, or Kindness House Children’s Home, for two years, since the founder Rotjana Phraesrithong died.
“Teacher Rotjana, the founder of the foundation, has helped and supported me till I graduated from university and given me the opportunity to go study abroad. And now I came back to work for her,” said Watana.
The 9.15 magnitude Dec. 26 earthquake triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean 15 years ago, killing more than 230,000 people. Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka were among the worst hit countries. More than 5,300 people were killed in Thailand, among them about 2,000 foreign tourists.
The Baan Than Namchai orphanage was initially set up days after the tsunami hit, to temporarily shelter 70 “tsunami children”. But what was meant to be a temporary set up of two months turned into a permanent organization in 2012.
The orphanage has provided refuge for hundreds of children over the years, and currently has 92 young charges, supported by donations from abroad and public fundraising.
“We went from tents to buildings. We started with floor boards made of plywood from used coffins we took from a temple,” said senior staff member Angkana Chatreekul, who has been with the organization since it first started.
She said the children are in good hands under the care of Watana, who “understands the loss these children are facing,” having experienced great loss from the tsunami himself.
Children at Baan Than Namchai spend their days in tuition classes with volunteer teachers and also participate in extra curricular activities like growing vegetables and mushrooms in a farm within the compound.
There is also leisure and fun for everyone. While the younger children dance and sing in groups, the older ones play volleyball outdoors.
“The children in the foundation these days are more open in expressing themselves. They are not afraid to confront unexpected situations,” said Wattana.
Reporting by Prapan Chankaew; Writing by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan