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Volunteers lift the spirits of wounded soldiers

Each year, hundreds of soldiers are sent to Phramongkutklao Hospital in Bangkok for treatment after being injured on duty. For many of them, the injuries are life-changing.

Several volunteer groups are determined to stay by these soldiers' sides, offering moral support and more.

"We want them to know that we are here for them. We want to help them get on with their lives," said People Volunteer Group core member Sakdanai Petchnindam.

His group arranges regular visits by volunteers to soldiers injured in the unrest in the deep South.

The volunteers shower the soldiers with moral support, gift baskets and signed "Get Well Soon" cards. They also offer some financial assistance.

Colonel Dr Dussadee Tantanont, who heads Phramongkutklao Hospital's orthopaedic surgery division, said the soldiers' spirits lifted visibly when visitors arrived.

"The soldiers look cheerful and happy when the visitors talk to them. Moral support means the most to them," he said.

Butsaba Tuntipiboon, who founded the Pot of Love campaign, said some people were initially reluctant to visit injured soldiers in person because they feared that one wrong word during a conversation could accidentally hurt the feelings of the patients.

"Some of my friends used to have that fear. But after visiting the soldiers, they find that things go really well. They even get encouragement from the soldiers," she said.

Dussadee said soldiers needed not just medical treatment, but also emotional care.

"Their cases are not [merely] about illness. So we have arranged for various units to take turns visiting these injured soldiers."

He said the soldiers were proud about having carried out their duty and having served the country.

"They don't want sympathy. They just want to know that people recognise the importance of their mission and acknowledge their service to the country," Dussadee said.

He said severely injured soldiers initially worried about themselves, their becoming disabled, and their livelihoods.

"But quite quickly, their concerns turn mostly to their families," he said.

According to Dussadee, the Army provides free accommodation and free meals for the injured soldiers' relatives when they visit the hospital.

"We have also arranged for various government agencies and private groups or organisations to take turns visiting the soldiers," he said.

He estimated that there were lunch and dinner parties for the injured soldiers about 15 days out of each month.

About 90 per cent of soldiers at Phramongkutklao Hospital were injured in the deep South. The rest sustained wounds in border zones or during anti-drug operations.

Srisawas Boonyakiat, a nurse at the hospital, said she cared for injured soldiers as if they were her own relatives.

"These soldiers have sacrificed themselves for the country," she said.

Butsaba said she started visiting the injured soldiers after deciding that simply expressing moral support via Facebook alone might not be enough.

"I feel we must have the courage to go there and tell the soldiers face-to-face how much we care for them and that we have never forgotten them," she said.

Butsaba has encouraged her friends to do the same thing. Last December, she produced and sold tree pots to raise funds for the soldiers.

"Together with donations, we were able to raise nearly Bt100,000," she said.

Inspired by the tree pots, she created the Pot of Love page on Facebook to tell others about the injured soldiers and how to reach out to them.

"These soldiers don't want much from us - just friendship, some recognition and a little moral support," Butsaba said.



This is the first in a two-part series on injured soldiers. The second part will be published on Saturday.




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