Twentysix female boat racers are showing their paddling skills at Indonesia's 1st Asian Beach Games. Seventeen of the 26 are orphans from Lampun's Chalermphrakiat 84 Pansa School under HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's patronage.
"This is the first time we're competing abroad and of course we're going to do our best," says Patcharee Tippayamonton, a 16yearold boat rac¬er from the school.
They are competing against 10 countries including Indonesia, China and Burma in the female dragon boat race with 22 racers.
As the Princess supports her school, Patcharee says her friends and she aim to win a gold medal to present to Her Royal Highness.
"The Princess always gives us moral support," Patcharee adds.
The 17 orphans are from the Pornprathep Team, which the school's physical education teacher Thnakon Panyawong set up in 2005.
"I had never thought my students would be able to take part in an international competition. At first I decided to teach them paddling just because I wanted them to have an activity to do after class in the evening. I didn't want them getting bored living in a boarding school," Thnakon says.
He lets his students paddle in the Kuang River, which is lo¬cated at the back of the school, every evening.
On watching his students develop, Thnakon decided to let them compete with others. The team went on to bag a number of awards since 2006, including ones at the National Sports Competition, the National Juvenile Sports Competition and the National Boat Races.
Flush with success, they firmly pointed their oars in the direction of Indonesia, apply¬ing to represent Thailand at the dragon boat race in Bali. The group succeeded in grabbing a berth after they left two strong teams in their wake.
Five other athletes who are taking part in the dragon boat race together with these stu¬dents are from Lampang and four from Chiang Mai.
All have been trained in Chonburi's Sattahip district to make them accustomed to paddling at sea.
The games started on Saturday and will go on till Friday. The team is going by the name of Jaomae Jamatewi.