What a glorious day!
Our Korczak School students had been preparing for the big event for over a week. They practiced their classical Thai song and dance performances. They created an art exhibit of their own original photography. They wrote speeches and memorized every word. They even baked cakes and cookies on the day before the event.
They were more than ready to celebrate.
The 10th Anniversary Celebration of our Janusz Korczak School, held last Thursday, turned out to be fabulously fun, and moving.
We opened our Janusz Korczak School in 2005, at first for several children who lived with us as family in our Mercy Centre – kids who simply could not fit into regular school.
Many Mercy kids had been living on the streets before they joined our family and missed out on an early education. Other Mercy kids missed out because they were too weak from AIDS or had other physical ailments. Some Mercy kids were developmentally slow. No government schools would take them in.
We started our Korczak School to make sure that every child, whatever his circumstances, has the chance to go to school, to learn to read and write, and to make friends just like other children.
By the second and third years of operation, we began taking in more street children from outside our Mercy Centre.
By the fourth and fifth years, more migrant children, mostly from Cambodia, began attending our Korczak School. These kids, ranging from ages seven to fifteen, lack the documents to allow them entry into regular government schools.
Today, about half of our 40 Korczak students are Cambodian or ethnic Rohingya from Burma.
We named the school after Janusz Korczak because he is a hero to all poor children. A Polish-Jewish doctor and humanitarian born in 1878, Korczak advocated for the universal rights of poor children long before there was a United Nations. He also operated an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. When the Nazis invaded Poland, his orphanage was removed to the Jewish Ghetto. Korczak could have escaped, but chose to remain with his children.
Korcak and all his children died in the Treblinca death camp in 1942.
In honor of their national hero, the ambassadors to both Israel and Poland joined in our celebration. After I gave a Catholic ceremonial blessing, H.E. Ambassador of Israel Simon Roded recited a prayer in Hebrew, followed by a blessing in Polish from H.E. Ambassador Zenon Kuchciak.
The good Doctor Korzack would have been proud to see his works honored by a school that opens up a world of opportunities to so many children in need.
Several Korczak school alumni performed at the celebration. I give you one example, Ms. Sunisa:
Ms. Sunisa joined our Mercy family at age twelve. Raised in a destitute Akha hill tribe village, she had never gone to school as a young child and could speak only her local hill tribe language. When we first met her, she was begging on the streets of Chiang Mai and in great danger of being sold and trafficked as a sex worker.
She entered our Janusz Korczak School and began her studies. After three years, we were able to place Sunisa in a local high school. Today she is completing a vocational college degree in accounting while working both as a House Mom for our younger boys and as an assistant in our accounting department – a long way away from her days as a child beggar. (Photo above, Ms. Sunisa performing classical dance at anniversary celebration.)
Here’s another story of a Janusz Korczak School alumna:
Ms. Tengmo was born in prison where her mom was serving time for selling methamphetamines. By the time our Korczak teachers met Tengmo at age eight, she was living in a shack under a nearby expressway and looking after her three younger siblings as best she was able – trying to make sure they had enough to eat, a place to sleep, and somewhere safe to play.
Our teachers invited Tengmo to join our Korczak school and enrolled her younger siblings in one of our Mercy Centre kindergartens. During the school year, the teachers observed her home situation and saw that she spent her after-school afternoons begging beside a pedestrian bridge to put bread on the table for her younger siblings. Our teachers often spoke with Tengmo’s mother and earned her trust. Together with our social workers and our legal aid center staff, our teachers eventually were able to persuade Tengmo’s mother to let our Mercy Centre look after her children. Today Tengmo is in Second Grade at a government school, still a bit behind her age peers but catching up fast! (Photo above, Tengmo with her sister and two brothers.)
Back to the celebration…
Did I mention that our children baked cakes and cookies for their guests? I did, but I wish to add, they were simply delicious! Our Korczak students also gave presents to their guests, demonstrated their vocational skills in barbering, cooking, and sewing, and proved to be most gracious hosts.
When you visit our Mercy Centre, please be sure to drop by our Korczak School. We want you to see this beautiful school and meet the teachers and see how much our students – who otherwise would have no place to learn or play – love going to school.
May our Korczak School live on and serve the poorest children for generations to come!
Photos above, Korczak children present gifts of their photographs to H.E. Ambassador Simon Roded (top) and H.E. Ambassador Zenon Kuchciak (bottom).
The good news first: it wasn’t a major a fire. It didn’t rage on for hours.
This one, fortunately, was quickly contained. The folks rallied – using fire extinguishers and buckets of water – and they raced to set up a portable pump to open a hydrant. Thank goodness we had a strong rain a few hours earlier.
But every slum fire, even one that is contained within minutes, can destroy several structures and leave dozens of our brothers and sisters homeless.
It happened about a week ago in the 70 Rai community, just a few blocks from our Mercy Centre. Seven homes were severely damaged; four homes were completely destroyed. In total, 51 adults and children were left homeless.
Our community teams began helping the victims before the smoke cleared. We worked through the evening and next days to ensure that those left homeless had a place to stay, rice to eat, clothes to wear, uniforms, books, and school supplies for the school children, and a plan to rebuild as quickly as possible.
In building and repairing over 10,000 burned-down slum homes in the past 40 years, we understand the real cost to the victims is psychological. They may have had next to nothing, comparatively, in material terms before the fire struck, but the loss of everything they own – every family picture and every memento – and the loss of a secure roof above them is utterly devastating.
Their psychological suffering is far greater than their material loss.
The faster we can help the victims get back to their regular daily lives (within a day or two if possible) – with the ladies selling their food in the local fresh market and the children with new uniforms, books, backpacks, pens and pencils back in their school classrooms – the less severe will be their emotional scars.
Thus, from the first moment we can make a difference, we provide hot meals and emergency services. And in the following hours, we work with the victims, the community leaders, and local housing authorities to organize the clearing of tons of debris and begin putting down stakes to rebuild homes and repair lives.
Our emergency reserve funds are low, and so we write to you to ask for your support. Those wishing to help us to help our neighbors get back on their feet with a roof over their heads can contact me. I will pass on your information and scope of your support to our community teams.
Thank you, respectfully, and prayers,
Photo below: our teams work together with fire victims at Mercy Centre.
Last week our 2,500 kindergarten students enjoyed a full day of activities dedicated the joy of science. Our children discovered what life looks like under a magnifying glass and how to blow bubbles. Plus other super fun activities!