It’s an awesome time of the year here in Thailand. Totally awesome.
Flowering trees are in full bloom with every color of the rainbow: so bright and delicate and beautiful, it’s breathtaking. And our kids are taking advantage of every minute of their summer holidays. For at least the next few weeks, they have no mandatory daily duties, no classes to attend, and no obligations apart from looking after themselves and behaving well. They simply get up each morning and try to figure out what they need to do to capture every potential moment of joy during their summer holidays.
The Thai New Year water festival was crazy fun. Imagine: Four full days of splish-splash. Someone gave us a plastic wading pool 24 inches deep and we filled it with the garden hose water. And our five- and six-year olds (especially the girls) were at the top of their splashing game. Best splashers in the whole slum. Stopping only to eat. No, they weren’t forgetting their past pains, but rather embracing the moment. Slum kids who have been hungry on the streets never forget. Even though here at Mercy, there are always double or triple portions, the kids never forget those days when they were hungry.
I wish all of you a Happy New Year as I try to catch up and keep everyone in our Mercy loop.
During the Songkran holidays, we invited our elderly slum neighbors to Mercy Centre. Just over 500 came to party, to bless, to celebrate, and to remember days of yore.
Together we danced, feasted, received blessings from our local Monks, and blessed each other – forgiving and being forgiven by pouring lustral water over each other’s hands and sprinkling flower petals over our aging heads – and then we danced some more.
The next day, after Mass, friends brought a whole tub full of ice cream for our children, more than enough for all. (Note some kids had two and even three scoops!). Then all the kids came to the porch of my house and poured water over my hands and feet; and I blessed them as is a New Year tradition here.
Later, that same afternoon, we held a three-hour meeting with a slum group that is being forcibly evicted. We also held a follow-up meeting the next day. The situation is not so simple: after being threatened and bribed, 120 families have moved while over 50 families remain.
Worse, their community kindergarten was closed. That’s horrible and totally unacceptable.
At the second meeting, we announced to the community that their school would be re-opened the following morning. We borrowed our two best teachers from another one of our schools – teachers who have taught for over 30 years in our kindergartens. That first morning, four children came to class; by afternoon a dozen arrived; and now a few days later, 20 children are back in school.
We had operated this kindergarten for many years before handing it over to the community to run themselves. But now with all the landlord troubles, the community leaders asked us to take over the school again.
The next day, we also prepared the legal documents to go to court to fight the forced eviction and to stop throwing people out on the street.
The community held emergency meetings, elected new community leaders with our assistance, and formally asked us to come back and teach.
I guess what I am trying to tell you is that our days are filled with heavy duty industrial-type community-organization stuff – the stuff that slums and dreams are made of.
I almost forgot to mention: we had a party last week at Mercy for most of the street kids and street families who dwell under the Rama 3 Bridge that included a luncheon, a medical check up, and vaccinations.
Meanwhile our legal aid teams have been dealing with many street problems, including terrible sexual abuse, stabbings, drug sales – all of it nasty stuff. Oh! And three new boys arrived in our homes, each one abandoned because his parents were drug-addled or in jail.
All the above happened in a span of just a few days: celebrations to harsh realities – evictions, abuse, childhood abandonment – and back to celebrations. That’s the heartbeat of Mercy.
We wish our friends from around the world a Happy Thai New Year filled with blessings, peace, good health and an abundance of joy! Today we invited our elderly neighbors to Mercy Centre for a celebration of Songkran, the Thai New Year. Hundreds upon hundreds of dear, elderly friends joined in the festivities with our Mercy staff and children; and together we danced, feasted, received blessings from our local Monks, and then danced some more. Father Joe also gave blessings to our elderly attendees, gently pouring lustral water on their hands and wishing them a New Year filled with joy. As they do on every Songkran, our neighbors sang the old songs and showed our children the true meaning and joy of a traditional Songkran.
About two thousand years ago that raggedy handful of Jerusalem street kids saw it all happen. The bad guys ordered their foreign occupying forces to capture him and execute Blessed Mary’s Son. But they also made it look legal so these bad guys could get away with it and wouldn’t have to go to prison. Lots of people were shouting to get him up the hill for execution fast.
The kids whispered among themselves: “That guy carrying the cross with thorns stuck on his head, wearing the purple cloak is Jesus the Holy One." The scavenger dogs were barking, but strangely not barking at Jesus.