01/05/2005, 00.00
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Pupils eager to study, relieved to find schoolmates

Phuket missioner says he has not heard of post-tsunami child trafficking but knew of families driven to sell their children by abject poverty.

Phuket (AsiaNews) – The first day back to school for the 1,450 pupils attending the Stigmatine-run Dowroont School's was strange and difficult but also one of relief.

"I asked the pupils to tell the teachers whether they knew of any families having a hard time because of the tsunami", Fr Peter Pakpoom, the school director, told AsiaNews. "But we know of two pupils missing, two parents dead and 58 homeless families," Father Pakpoom noted.

Many children lost everything, including their school uniforms and textbooks "so we give them clothing and books," he said, but they are happy just to find their schoolmates.

In the school, Catholics represent 25 per cent of the total, Muslims are 20, and the rest are Buddhist.

"Even though they belong to different religions," Father Pakpoom said, "I told the pupils we will help their families, and they are aware of that." In fact, Stigmatine missioners have traditionally helped everyone in the community irrespective of religious differences.

More importantly, after what happened, the kids "are eager to go back to school to study because they know that their future depends on it," the missioner explained.

Asked about allegations of child trafficking, he said he had not heard anything happening in the area, but did confirm that in the past "local families were so poor that they sold their children to cope with their situation".

By contrast, in Ranong, a town on the borer with Myanmar, the first day back to school went off without a hitch. This, too, is a Stigmatine-run school with another 1,400 pupils arriving for their first lessons after the disaster.

"Our school is untouched," said father Matthew, a local missioner. "We do however know that neighbouring villages had serious problems with buildings swept away by the waves". (LF)

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