In Thai Widows' Village, Loss Unites 2 Faiths

December 17, 2006

Author: Kim Barker

Source: Chicago Tribune

ROTAN BATU, Thailand -- This gated community looks like a typical suburban subdivision, filled with identical two-story homes, potted plants and yellow plastic garbage bins. Children ride bicycles. Women ask their neighbors for a can opener.

But there is one major difference--there are no men here. This is a village built on death, a rare place in southern Thailand known as the "widows' village," where Muslim and Buddhist families live side by side peacefully, united in their grief.

"When I see new families moving in here, I feel so depressed," said Asseyah Binda-oh, 46, a Muslim woman whose husband, a police officer, was shot dead in a tea shop in March 2004. "I know they're going through the same thing my family is."

This village in Narathiwat province was born out of the Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand, which has killed almost 1,700 people since 2004. Thailand's Queen Sirikit, who is known for her charity work, donated money to build the haven for Buddhist and Muslim widows that same year. The intention was to heal the bitterness, bring Buddhists and Muslims together and teach them how to be self-sufficient.