A group of students from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) recently hosted a morning of fun and friendship for orphaned high school students in Thailand's Deep South, part of their on-going efforts to help victims of violence in the strife-torn region.
Twenty-seven students who made the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Yala Town met early on June 18th with staff of the Deep South Woman Association for Peace (DeepPeace), a non-governmental organisation that organises IIUM's activities in Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces.
They then travelled south to the Damrong Witthaya School, a private Islamic school in Bannang Sata, a government-designated "red zone" district in Yala Province.
On the way, the convoy passed through a series of heavily fortified government road checkpoints and picked up friends living in the area. Group leader Mahammad Bin Osman of Terengganu, Malaysia said the local students were members of the IIUM Student Enhancement Club.
DeepPeace, which is working to promote women's rights and assist innocent victims of violence, was represented on the trip by Secretary Paedilah Nisoh and Children's Centre Statistics Co-ordinator Patihah Malee.
"In total we have 60 students in four schools that we sponsor," Paedilah told Khabar Southeast Asia. "We cover all their tuition fees, study supplies, food, religious studies and related expenses when they start their first year of secondary school. About 90% are orphans who have lost their parents to the violence in the region."
The volunteers were greeted at Damrong Witthaya School by Principal Issamae Dureh, who said the school has a current enrolment of 710 students, with more than 200 girls and 80 boys living onsite. The students study Islam in the morning and regular curriculum in the afternoon, Issamae said.
The first activity the volunteers did with students was an English-language word game known locally as "Bugger" in which the students tried to come up with words using letters from a longer word.
For "King and Queen", each group was given a stack of old newspapers and some clear packing tape and then had to dress a king and queen from each group using only those materials. This caused raucous laughter, especially when the kings and queens performed a fashion show to determine the winner.
For the final activity, "My Dream Job", the students worked together to draw and colour images reflecting their future aspirations.
The session ended with a traditional Muslim amlah farewell ceremony, as the volunteers gave gift bags containing study supplies to the students.
A lifeline for orphans
The volunteers then ate a traditional lunch of fried chicken, yellow rice and soup in Issamae's home in the Pattani Malay style, sitting on the floor with the males and females segregated, using their fingers.
"Our objective is to help students from the three southernmost provinces of Thailand," said student volunteer Naseeroh Cheha, a native of Tak Bai district, Narathiwat. "This is my first time on a project working with orphans, but I have been on three or four other programmes before this."
Fellow volunteer Rusneeta Awae, also from Tak Bai, told Khabar she joined the group when she was a student at IIUM. Thanks to a Thai government scholarship, she now studies finance and accounting at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
"We are all looking to help orphans that have lost their parents in the conflict in the three Deep South provinces. We all share the same target to help them with any questions they have with their studies and also to improve their English," she said.
Fadlee Seng, 14, a third-year boarding student at the Sutthisat Witthaya School in Than To, took part in the day's activities.
"I would like to thank these people for helping me by funding my studies and donating school supplies," he said, speaking in Pattani Malay through a translator.
Humaida Salaeh, a third-year boarding student at Damrong Witthaya, said she had been sponsored by IIUM/DeepPeace partnership since her first year at the school.
"The association is giving me a future and looks after me well. I lost my father to the violence six years ago. I am the third of four children in my family. We are all still in school, but it's been pretty hard on my mother to support us all by herself. It has made our lives more difficult and I miss my dad," she said, speaking in Thai.