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!
A few quick notes:
First, because several friends heard I was ailing and I don’t want people to worry.
I write to you from my home at Mercy Centre after a few days in hospital. It was something I’ve put off for twenty years that finally needed attention – a multiple-hernia – that’s now taken care of. And I’m already on the mend. Thanks to everyone for best thoughts and prayers.
Happily ensconced at home to mend (with more than enough time to sit and reflect), I have much to share with you today, starting with some fabulous news here in Mercy Centre.
August has been awesome for our kids.
Our Boys Journey to Poland!
For the second year in a row, our Mercy boys played in an international soccer tournament (each team of six players) in Warsaw Poland for children from 23 countries who live in Group Homes. This year we sent an entirely different troop of Mercy kids because we want more children to have the benefit of an international experience.
So this new troop of Mercy boys – boys who never imagined a world beyond our beloved slum in Klong Toey – suddenly found themselves carrying a passport that bears their own names on a flight to Warsaw Poland, stopping over in Moscow. One boy told me afterwards that the journey felt like a dream, that he couldn’t believe there were so many children just like himself, living without families, from countries he’d never heard of, and that now they were friends for life. He counted his new-found friends on his fingers: one from Poland, one from Slovakia, another from Netherlands, and two more from Spain. What incredible fortune!
Plus, our kids were treated as VIPS. They dined at the Thai Ambassador’s residence and received a private tour at Janusz Korczak Museum. (Korczak is a hero to the people of Poland and Israel and all poor, orphaned children around the world).
I belong to a Catholic Congregation called the Redemptorists and my Redemptorist confreres in Warsaw met our team – cheered for them during the games, took them out to a fabulous Polish meal, and showed them their beautiful Church.
On the soccer pitch, our children heard cheers trumpeting every goal they scored. We played teams from Poland, The Netherlands, Slovakia, and the South Africa. We didn’t win, but we certainly did not lose. Our boys learned a great life-affirming lesson – that they are important, that they matter, that the world believes in them!
Meanwhile, while our boys were running up and down a Warsaw soccer pitch finding their dreams, fifteen students from our Janusz Korczak School for Street Children never left Bangkok, yet made very similar discoveries.
Our Korczak Students Create Beautiful Art.
Our Korczak students were each given a camera, taught a few lessons in photography, and told to take pictures. “Shoot anything you think is beautiful or interesting,” urged their teacher, Sara Khazem, the founder of the Capturing Neverland Foundation (www.facebook.com/sarakhazem). For the next four days, our students took pictures of their life in the slums. On the fifth and final day of the workshop, they spent an unforgettable day in Wat Phra Kaew, framing its beauty as skilled photographers.
In the course of the Neverland workshop, our kids learned that what they personally see matters, and that, in fact, their own perceptions are meaningful, even beautiful, and most certainly worthy of art!
Their “Capturing Neverland” journey culminated with an exhibition of their best photos, currently on display at the Imperial Queens Park Hotel.
Neverland Photos: Top to bottom: Barbershop in our 70 Rai neighborhood. Cheri, age 16, captured an everyday scene that is remarkably colorful and thoroughly Thai. She showed us that her life is full of gorgeous images! Thai Truck, by Sue-ah, a Cambodian student, age 15; Statuary, by Sopa, a Cambodian student, age 11.
Reaching Out to Assist the Most Vulnerable Adults living with AIDS
As pioneers in AIDS outreach and homecare, we have been training health leaders in Laos, Burma and Thailand for the past several years. Now we are expanding our formal training program into the local prison populations, where AIDS stigmatization is distressingly high.
At the Klong Prem Prisons we teach both male and female inmates living with AIDS how to care for themselves. To de-stigmatize the disease within prison walls, we are also educating the guards, administrators and general staff.
When inmates with AIDS are preparing for their release, we help ease their return and provide as seamless a transition as possible, working with their families prior to their release, and then ensuring access to health care and ARVs upon their return home. Most importantly, we teach them how to protect themselves and their loved ones. They can call us whenever they need counsel, and we visit them whenever they need home care.
AIDS Outreach, Door-to-Door, in Our Community
Working with the local government health clinic in our 70 Rai neighborhood, we are currently training 40 volunteers, all community residents, mostly grandmas, to provide assistance to families with AIDS and to educate all our neighbors to be more understanding and compassionate for those afflicted. These volunteers are the perfect teachers. Everyone in the neighborhood already knows, admires, and trusts them. They are revered.
Multi-lingual Kids attending Our Schools
In recent years, we have seen a steady wave of migrant children from Laos, Cambodia and Burma enrolling in our schools. In one of our construction camp kindergartens, our students are 90% Cambodian and only 10% Thai.
For the first time in 40 years of teaching in Bangkok slums, some classrooms have a significant number of Karen Hill Tribe students, Cambodian kids, Burmese kids, and Lao kids, whose parents have moved from remote villages to seek steady unskilled work in the slaughterhouse and elsewhere in the slums.
Since children have a natural facility in learning languages, we are not worried about these migrant students mastering Thai. But we also want them to be fluent in reading and writing in their own language, especially since most of the foreign children will eventually return to live and work and raise families in their home countries.
In our Janusz Korczak School, we recently hired a Cambodian teacher to assist our Thai teachers. We will need funding to expand a bi-lingual curriculum to reach the migrant children in our schools. If you are looking for a rewarding way to help educate the poorest of the poor, please join us in this project!
All for now. More soon! Thank you, everyone, for being a part of our Mercy family.
Prayers as always - respectfully,