Thailand's elderly attend school to fight loneliness

26 PHOTOS
Thailand's school for the elderly
See Gallery
Thailand's school for the elderly
Choochart Supkerd, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, poses for a photograph inside his house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 28, 2018. Supkerd attended a 12-week course at the school which he said was a welcome relief from his "stressful" life. "It's stressful just living day by day. I don't have an income," he said. "I receive disabled welfare of 800 baht ($25.60/month)." The school was a place for him to make friends. "I will probably go back to feeling lonely sometimes but I'm also proud of this, of gaining some knowledge in class that would be useful for my daily life." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Choochart Supkerd, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, walks with his dog near his house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 28, 2018. Supkerd attended a 12-week course at the school which he said was a welcome relief from his "stressful" life. "It's stressful just living day by day. I don't have an income," he said. "I receive disabled welfare of 800 baht ($25.60/month)." The school was a place for him to make friends. "I will probably go back to feeling lonely sometimes but I'm also proud of this, of gaining some knowledge in class that would be useful for my daily life." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Poonsri Seangnual, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, spends time with her grandchildren at her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 27, 2018. "I really like going to school. I gained knowledge and it's really fun. I have a lot of friends, know a lot more people," said Seangnual. "I feel lonely whenever I don't go to school, I want to go back and meet my friends. I miss the classroom." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj (L), 77, and Poonsri Seangnual (R), 63, who study at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, spend time with each other at a shop in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Choochart Supkerd, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, cleans his house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 28, 2018. Supkerd attended a 12-week course at the school which he said was a welcome relief from his "stressful" life. "It's stressful just living day by day. I don't have an income," he said. "I receive disabled welfare of 800 baht ($25.60/month)." The school was a place for him to make friends. "I will probably go back to feeling lonely sometimes but I'm also proud of this, of gaining some knowledge in class that would be useful for my daily life." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Choochart Supkerd, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, smokes at his hut in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 28, 2018. Supkerd attended a 12-week course at the school which he said was a welcome relief from his "stressful" life. "It's stressful just living day by day. I don't have an income," he said. "I receive disabled welfare of 800 baht ($25.60/month)." The school was a place for him to make friends. "I will probably go back to feeling lonely sometimes but I'm also proud of this, of gaining some knowledge in class that would be useful for my daily life." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj, 77, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, holds a box containing medicines near her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 26, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj, 77, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, looks on as she waits for morning alms near her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 26, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj, 77, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, takes a nap at her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 24, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somkid, 70, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, talks with a neighbour's child at her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj (C), 77, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, offers alms to a Buddhist monk near her house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 26, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somkid, 70, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, walks across a bridge after visiting her cousin Chaluay in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 24, 2018. "Staying at home is like staying alone. My son is barely home. Going to school is fun, meeting friends and knowing more neighbours as we go to the same school. Even after graduation, we keep in touch and meet each other as we know that elders sometimes overthink things and get lonely." Somkid said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Students laugh whilst at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, Thailand, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Chaluay Suriyon (R), 84, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict is visited by her cousins at her home in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 24, 2018. "I used to be unhealthy with bad blood pressure. I enjoy going to the classes, joined the activities and danced with my friends," Suriyon said." After graduation, I'm back to being lonely again and think a lot about stuff. My health has gone back to how it was and I had to go back to my blood pressure pills. I miss my friends." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Students at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, attend a traditional dance class in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Students attend an English class at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Somjit Teeraroj, 77, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, attends a class in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 7, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Somjit Teeraroj, 77, who studies at the the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, walks to a school bus stop in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 14, 2018. Somjit, a widow, said she wasn't lonely before but when her husband of 40 years died in an accident she was left on her own. Her son and daughter occasionally visit her but it was the school that helped her to recover from her loss. "I've been looking forward to every Wednesday which is the only day where I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We got to talk and laugh together," Somjit said. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Students from the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, sing the national anthem in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Poonsri Seangnual, 63, gets dressed at her home before attending a class at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 21, 2018. "I really like going to school. I gained knowledge and it's really fun. I have a lot of friends, know a lot more people," said Seangnual. "I feel lonely whenever I don't go to school, I want to go back and meet my friends. I miss the classroom." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Students from the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, travel on the school bus in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Poonsri Seangnual, 63, has her hair tied back before attending a class at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 7, 2018. "I really like going to school. I gained knowledge and it's really fun. I have a lot of friends, know a lot more people," said Seangnual. "I feel lonely whenever I don't go to school, I want to go back and meet my friends. I miss the classroom." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Kanyarat Khonkrit (R) helps her mother Phoem Khonkrit, 91, get dressed for school at their house in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 14, 2018. They both study at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict. "The school is really good. From someone who doesn't really get to socialise or meet anybody, it opened up our world, got us socialising and doesn't make us feel lonely. My mum is also getting better, she was too attached to the house before and refused to go out anywhere," said Khonkrit. "After finishing school, we had more friends and still keep in contact with them." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
A school skirt belonging to Poonsri Seangnual, 63, a student at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, hangs from a wardrobe at her home in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 21, 2018. "I really like going to school. I gained knowledge and it's really fun. I have a lot of friends, know a lot more people," said Seangnual. "I feel lonely whenever I don't go to school, I want to go back and meet my friends. I miss the classroom." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Poonsri Seangnual, 63, who studies at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict, leaves her house wearing her school uniform, in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 21, 2018. "I really like going to school. I gained knowledge and it's really fun. I have a lot of friends, know a lot more people," said Seangnual. "I feel lonely whenever I don't go to school, I want to go back and meet my friends. I miss the classroom." REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
Students take part in a class at the School for the Elderly in Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict in Ayutthaya, Thailand, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha 
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Wearing crisp red-and-white uniforms, a group of 60-year-olds pile into a bus, smiling broadly as they make their way to a school in Ayutthaya, a province in Thailand.

For this group, and others across the country, going back to school offers a way to fight loneliness at a time when changing demographics mean more elderly people are living alone.

“I’ve been looking forward to every Wednesday, when I go to school, dress up as a school student and meet friends. We get to talk and laugh together,” said Somjit Teeraroj, a 77-year-old widow who is a student at the school for the elderly in Ayutthaya’s Chiang Rak Noi subdistrict.

After the death of her husband of 40 years, with her children visiting occasionally, Somjit said it was the school that helped her recover from her loss. 

Somjit’s story is emblematic of a larger problem in Thailand - a rapidly ageing population.

Thailand, together with China, is ageing faster than its regional neighbours. By 2040, it is expected to have the highest share of elderly people of any developing country in East Asia, according to the World Bank.

Thailand has 7.5 million people aged 65 and over, a figure projected to swell to 17 million by 2040 - more than a quarter of the expected population.

Traditionally, ageing Thais lived at home with their families and were cared for by their children. But with many leaving the countryside to work in the cities, parents and grandparents are increasingly being left alone.

Schools like the one in Ayutthaya, 80 km (49.71 miles) north of Bangkok, that offer weekly classes over three months are the government’s way of offering older people relief from the stresses of living alone.

“It’s stressful just living day by day,” 63-year-old Choochart Supkerd told Reuters.

“I will probably go back to feeling lonely sometimes but I’m also proud of this, of gaining some knowledge in class,” said Choochart, after posing for a picture with the class of 2018 in his gold-trimmed red graduation gown and a flower crown.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Juarawee Kittisilpa and Athit Perawongmetha; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Read Full Story