A group of young female students at a Pattani boarding school are working hard to get ready for the Under-15 ASEAN Cricket Championships in October.
The cricket project, the first of its kind in Thailand's Deep South, is now in its second year. It is one of many special activities at the Prachanukroh 40 School, a sprawling complex located near Pattani town.
Cricket, popular among expatriates in Thailand but typically not familiar to the population at large, reached the school from Malaysia, thanks to the efforts of retired Malaysian civil servant Suhaimi bin Abdullah, better known as AbeMie Chainarong.
AbeMie, with his Salam Dari Patani group of volunteer English and Malay teachers, first got involved with the school three years ago, hoping to provide students with the chance to study English and Bahasa Malayu with native speakers.
As a member of the Kriket Malayu, the sport's governing body in Malaysia, AbeMie managed to secure its sponsorship for the girls' cricket team. Two of the 19 members of the team have already been selected to play on the Under-19 Thai National Team in upcoming international match.
"I've been playing for over a year now. It's a very fun sport. Although sometimes it gets pretty hot, I think cricket makes us braver and keeps us healthy and strong," Hanifah Mase, a 15-year-old keeper from Maiken district, told Khabar Southeast Asia. "It can also increase our powers of concentration and advance planning, which might also help our studies."
Rosenanee Kanoh, a bowler from Panare district, said she had also benefited from cricket. "I think it really helps me develop my personal skills and gives us a wide range of new experiences. … I think cricket has a good chance to gain in popularity in Thailand."
Sport provides opportunities
According to Ananthon Boonthian of the Pattani Cricket Association in Muang district, the sport has many benefits for young people.
"Cricket can open up opportunities for some groups of kids who might not otherwise get such chances. It gives them a chance to develop social skills and when they travel away for competitions they get a chance to see what the outside world is like and apply things they see on the road to their lives here. It's good for their personal development and promotes teamwork as well," he told Khabar.
"I am very impressed at what these kids have accomplished so far with the support of Kriket Melayu and Thailand," he said. "But if we want to make the sport even more popular, we will need more help from the government."
New experiences are particularly important for youths at this school, which has a student body of around 500. Most of the students come from the 12 districts of Pattani, with the Southern Border Province Administration Centre (SBPAC) nominating students whose families have been affected or destroyed by militant violence.
About 10% lost a parent due to the insurgency. Others are good students from poor families who were nominated by their teachers at their former schools, said cricket coach and physical science teacher Azmi Borsu.
School Director Niphon Nikachi, who is also a prize-winning painter, explained that the school was established as the 40th of its type in 2008 to address the unrest in the area. His school includes numerous facilities not found at most Thai schools: a medical clinic, a Muay Thai gym and a museum filled with artwork where the kids can learn about the local culture on computers.