These Photos Capture A Nomadic Thai Community In Transition

08/20/2014 08:43 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2014

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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the way of life of the Moken people, a largely boat-dwelling people who previously had spent two-thirds of the year sailing off western Myanmar and around southern Thailand, only staying on land during the monsoon season.

Numbering around 2,000 to 3,000 people, they have struggled to return to their boats. Lacking passports or other identity papers, those who try to work at sea often find themselves harassed or arrested by coastguards. Their plight has attracted the attention of non-governmental organizations and faith-based bodies. Such aid, however, has left many of the Moken unable to resume their traditional way of life.

The Moken community of Ko Lao island in southern Thailand is now largely land-based. Few of its adults fish or dive much, and its children, instead of learning how to live off the sea are educated in a school on the other side of the island, 10 minutes away on a long-tail boat.

Ko Lao, Thailand
Photographer:Bernice Wong

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At their school on the Thai island of Ko Lao, two classes of Moken children share a single teacher.

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The Moken’s former life as a nomadic, sea-based people may be a thing of the past, but their children remain thoroughly at home in the water.

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