There has been lots of international media coverage of the horrible fire in a dormitory in an all girls’ school the other night and rightly so. This is a top quality school founded to teach, especially, indigent Hill Tribe girls. It was a horrible fire that should not have happened. And like all these type of terrible accidents, the cause was a series of little mistakes turning into tragedy. The fire was in the Hill Country of North Thailand some 700 kilometers from Bangkok in a town called Chiang Rai, near the Laotian Border. The seventeen fire victims were girls from age 5 to 12, and one teacher.
We here in Bangkok together with our own slum children are terribly saddened although we did not personally know any of the victims. Nor are we connected with that particular school. However, to show solidary our own 2,500 slum kindergarten children in each of our 24 schools and ten work camps will write a letter from their class to speak of sadness , but also hope for tomorrow and prayers for the children’s families. We are not going to take up a collection, as that is not necessary, as many others are helping.
At the same time, this is a ‘wake-up’ call for safety for our own 24 shanty town old wooden school buildings. We cannot make them fire-proof, nor more than we can make the whole slum fire proof, but we can make them fire safe, meaning – IF there be a fire, our children will know what to do – they can easily escape, as has happened 3 times in the past 45 years. We have never lost a child, nor has there even been an injury. We are Blessed.
We shall write to you again soon, but this is urgent, and I do want everyone to know about this fire.
Prayers as always - my respect to you all from me and our children.
It’s a whole new strange and scary world. A world without mum or granny, and a world outside your own slum shack. A world where you are all alone, even for a little while. Your home, your shack where you live, yes it is a shack, but it’s safe. Also that’s where your pillow is, and where your teddy bear lives, the food is, and granny is, and everything that protects you, and you know you are loved. Whatever that means. Maybe this going to school business is okay, kind of, a little bit, because you walked maybe three minutes to school and granny holds your hand and you know the way home to your house just in case something happens and you have to run. Just in case. And you know some older kids – like 5 – 6 year olds who already go to school there.
Today our Thai official academic school year returns.
First day of kindergarten school in the slums – Wow. First day in school and slum kids cry & shed huge loud tears just like you and I did long ago. ‘Mamma, don’t leave me. Promise you will come back to get me. Promise. Promise.
And the mums do promise and hug their children, and they do come back. Just like our mums did and dads too. This year, our 44th year – lots of dads came.
That’s fabulous. The slums are changing. Dads more and more are ‘hanging around ‘showing that they care, and love their children, and love the mums of those children. Wow. A whole new world.
There is hope. Not a lot. Not a ‘sure thing’, but still hope. Dads coming is maybe about 50% - but that is savagely cool. (So sez Kung Fu Panda)
So, it is a marvelous day. It is first day of school – year 43 that we’ve taught school, and nearly 50,000 slum kids. This year – over 500 new kids throughout the slums of Bangkok are entering our Mercy Pre-schools.
We consider the 23 Mercy preschools as a place of comfort and warmth. The kids start the day with morning gymnastics and dance, get the body going and have a laugh. Then after they sing the national anthem and say their morning prayers. It is time for milk and a morning snack. It is important to fill up the tummy; it makes it easier to learn. Funny dancing and smiles makes you fill good; and if you feel good you feel safe. Plus maybe one third of our kids have no breakfast to eat at home. So they come to school hungry.
Your classroom is filled with friends, kids from the neighborhood, kids like you and you kinda feel like you are home. But whenever you miss mummy, and you do even though school is fun, the teachers are always ready with a hug or comforting words.
This year 2500 children from the shanty slums of Bangkok will be studying the Thai alphabet, sing songs and dance and learn English. It will be a year filled with firsts for these children and we at Mercy Centre feel so blessed and honored being a part of their life journey. To all of you good folks, thank you for also being part of our journey through life.
Prayers as always
Fr joe & all
By Father Joe Maier
Master Galong rides an imaginary motorbike and takes his teeth from his pocket to eat, but never fails to show his gentle nature.
Published by the Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, April 24, 2016
Galong, born with Down's syndrome, was of indeterminate age. He lived on the streets and worked as a "doorman" at a low-budget karaoke joint near the Pratunam market. Always a proper gentleman, he greeted us, shook our hands and in his gravelly voice asked, "How are you?"
For sure, he did not grow up on the streets. He is much too gentle and refined for that. Plus he is healthy and well fed.
Being born, growing up and living daily on the street takes a certain roughness to survive. Master Galong does not have that roughness. He is the essence of good Thai manners. Someone raised him properly as their beloved son.