I’d like to tell you a fantastic story about a bunch of street kids we took camping a few weeks ago.
It was glorious! Just try to imagine a collective burst of joy that shakes the skies and you will start to get an idea of the fun these children had for four days and nights. (Related photo gallery here.)
Normally these street children sleep in abandoned buildings, under bridges and viaducts, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, on a floor inside a friend or relative’s shack for a few days. They trust almost no one, live by their wits, and survive day by day in a world that is horrible and dangerous. Their fatality rate is comparable to soldiers in combat. They really do die young.
Although these kids trust few adults, our social workers were able to persuade forty street kids to join our Mercy staff for a holiday at Kao Yai National Park, where they played children’s games just like other children, took long hikes, exercised until they were exhausted, cooked their own meals, made friends, learned lessons about sharing and about trusting others, laughed more than you might think humanly possible, and, best of all, lived without fear for four full days.
Our hope is that these kids will think a little harder about leaving the streets and join us or reunite with family or anyone who will take care of them, send them to school, and let them be children.
Given half a chance, they will thrive…
Which leads me to a few moments of parental boasting about our own Mercy children, who all came from the streets and have, belatedly, been given a chance in life. A few notes from their most recent report cards:
- Ms. Sunisa, an Akha Hilltribe girl, age 19, who as a child missed primary school because she had to beg for food on the streets of Chiang Mai, is now enrolled in a local Vocational College, where she received a certificate of excellence in Accounting. (She also types 57 wpm in English.)
- Sunisa’s sister, Yu-pin, currently a middle-school student, also received a certificate of excellence in physical education and Thai classical dance.
- Master Ali, a former street child from Burma, earned the highest marks in his Vocational Art School.
- Ms. Bua was sited for excellence in her Fifth Grade Class for her essay on Mothers Day. She wrote that her mom “doesn’t wear a fancy dress and didn’t get far in school, but she is much more than just my mom; she is my first and best friend, and always supports and cares for me and my brothers and sisters. I am proud to be her child.” Her essay teaches us why we need to do everything we can to keep families together; and her words are made more powerful by her own circumstances: her mom was forced to leave her children when she was sent to jail.
- Bua’s sister, Worada, a Sixth Grader, earned top marks in many of her courses.
- Master Meepoo (the Little Bear) earned a Klong Toey-wide award as a Youth Role Model based on the way he treats his classmates, teachers, and elders in the community. He’s also a kind and caring older brother and friend to our younger children and popular among his peers.
Our Sponsorship Kids:
Our sponsorship kids live in families that don’t have enough money for books, uniforms, or even daily food. These children often have as many hurdles to jump over as our own Mercy kids and we are equally proud to share a few of their academic achievements, including:
- Ms. Yada, a sea gypsy girl we began sponsoring after the tsunami, now living with us as she earns a college degree in Bangkok, was awarded a Princess Sirindhorn Royal Academic Scholarship to support her school tuition and ongoing expenses.
- Master Tiwakorn, whose education we have sponsored since First Grade, now attends university full time, yet he still has time to be a Big Brother to other sponsorship kids and attend extracurricular classes in English, music and dance. Step Dance School of Bangkok recently awarded him full tuition in their dance program.
The most fantastic news about our sponsorship kids is that they want to help one another. Several older kids have started a peer-to-peer club to support all 600 sponsorship kids in Bangkok. They organize sponsorship-wide events and advise and encourage the others to stay on top of their studies, to seek help when they need it most, and most of all, to go as far as they can in their education. They have invited alumni from our Sponsorship Program – many of them university graduates – to join in their efforts. These kids don’t want their friends to drop out. Though many of these children live in shacks without electricity with a grandmom or auntie as their sole guardian, their future is not bleak: they believe in themselves!
International AIDS Conference:
All our HIV/AIDS programs have grown out of the temporary hospice we opened 18 years ago. When moms and babies needed a place apart from our hospice, we opened a special home just for them. When our hospice patients gained strength and could go home, we started our homecare program. Slum communities needed knowledge about prevention and understanding about the people living with AIDS in their community, so we began a comprehensive outreach program.
Over the years, these programs have grown stronger by growing together, as one. Today, we are in over 60 slum communities.
At the International AIDS Conference in Vienna we were selected to present a Speech and Paper (what they call an “Abstract”) with statistical research conducted in partnership with Johns Hopkins University showing how Mercy AIDS Programs are a practical and replicable model for Palliative AIDS Care in poor communities worldwide.
We also operated an exhibit during the AIDS conference at The Global Village, a “sub-conference” that focused on the needs of non-government and grass roots foundations, like our Mercy Centre. This was an incredible opportunity for Mercy. It was our chance to share our experience and knowledge with the world of NGOs. And we seized the moment by letting the world hear the voices of our children.
Every visitor (and there were thousands!) heard our children speak out about their hopes and dreams in life. Our children tell us, when they grow up, they want to be doctors, nurses, artists, and teachers; and they show us every day that their dreams are within reach. And our exhibit was also an interactive booth, allowing visitors to send back their greetings and wishes to our own children. Many delegates commented that it was among the most powerful exhibits at the conference. You can read more “Positive Voices” on our website at www.mercycentre.org. “Positive Voices” is presented as an e-booklet we produced with USAID, telling the stories of our children and staff living with HIV, in their own words.
All for now. Actually there’s much more to tell you. Maybe it’s better to show you, so please visit our Mercy Centre and bring family, friends, and associates. We are grateful for everything you do to help us.
Thank you and best wishes to everyone,
Usanee and the Mercy Teams