American Students in Phuket to Learn Tsunami Lessons

Date: 07-03-2006

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HONOLULU (July 3) — It’s not your normal summer holiday. Twenty-four high school students from 13 American states are spending part of theirs in Phuket and Phi Phi islands. But, instead of swimming, snorkeling, or surfing, the young people are learning about the tragic event of December 26, 2004 and the rebuilding in its aftermath.

The students are seeing “first-hand the long-term recovery efforts in parts of Thailand that were devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” according to Jim Buika the senior manager of the Maui-based Pacific Disaster Center (PDC). Buika, among other experts, prepped the students during their stopover in Hawaii before their departure for Thailand.

The students are taking part in the program sponsored by the Honolulu-based East-West Center (EWC) AsiaPacificEd Program’s Islamic Initiative project in collaboration with the PDC and the U.S.-mainland based Russell Sage College’s Civics Mosaic program.

“It’s a learning experience of a lifetime.” That’s how Namji Steinemann, director of the EWC’s AsiaPacificEd Program sees the trip. Steinemann is accompanying the two-dozen students during their almost three-week stay in the south.

Steinemann says, “They are getting the chance to put a human face on natural disaster by living with host families in the affected area.” The students concur. Kyle Knoblock of Hudson, Massachusetts says, “Participation in this program is expanding my view of the world.” Jessica Au from Honolulu adds the trip to Thailand is “enabling me to build long-lasting bridges across countries, cultures and religions.”

At the end of their stay, the American students will prepare a report that will be presented to key government officials and the news media in Thailand and the United States. Stephen Schechter, director of the Civics Mosaic program, is also accompanying the students in Thailand. Based on their learning experiences and the knowledge they gain by living with the Thai students, Schechter says the Americans’ report “will make recommendations on the role of youth in building disaster-resilient communities and the simple ways in which schools, communities, and families can save young lives through planning, preparation, and education.”

The EWC’s Steinemann points out the trip is not a one-way street. “In September, a group of 24 Thai high school students from the tsunami-affected region will travel to Honolulu for a three-week visit and homestay.”


Namji Steinemann, director of the Honolulu-based East-West Center's AsiaPacificEd Program can be reached at (808) 944-7596 or via email:

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