How are you today, my Brother? Sister, how is your family? Do you have enough to eat? Do you need medicine? Are your children going to school?
Father Joe and Sister Maria would ask these questions to every slum neighbor they met every day, starting forty years ago when they first came to the Slaughterhouse in Klong Toey.
Some slum neighbors answered they were hungry, so Fr. Joe and Sister Maria gave them nutritious food with small sacks of rice. Others were sick, so Fr. Joe found a good doctor and started Bangkok’s first mobile medical clinic in the slums. To the question, “Are your children going to school?” nobody ever said “yes.”
Father Joe and Sister Maria opened Mercy’s first slum kindergarten in the Slaughterhouse in 1972 . It would be the first of dozens of Mercy Kindergartens to spring up beside bridges and railway tracks throughout the slums. Over 40,000 children have graduated from our Mercy schools!
A Role Model KindergartenLast month the Thai Ministry of Education named our Lock 6 Mercy Kindergarten a Role Model School for poor children, based on the quality of its teaching, student development, and administration. This award for excellence means that the Thai government will be using the lessons we’ve learned over the past 40 years in the operation of hundreds of government slum schools throughout Thailand.
In further recognition, the government asked us to make a “wish list” for our Lock 6 Kindergarten, which they have approved for support in 2012. Our wishes include school repairs and renovations, teaching materials, and school uniforms.A Very Special Street Teacher
One of the first survival lessons new street kids learn, a lesson passed from street kid to street kid, is that the Mercy Street Teachers will protect them when nobody else will.
We know these children and protect them on the streets and defend them in police stations and courtrooms because they are our children, and many of them eventually do come to live with us as a part of our Mercy family.
Recently the Ministry of Child Welfare gave our Street Teachers a great honor. They asked our head Street Teacher, Kru Nang, to create a comprehensive Street Child Protection Handbook, which will be used by child protection organizations throughout Thailand.
When Kru Nang meets a new street child, she begins the relationship by trying to learn everything about the child’s background, including why the child left home, whom among the family the child might trust (often a grandmother), and what options the child has for returning home or finding a safer environment. In the meantime, she teaches each child very practical “survival” lessons. For example, she teaches them through stories and various iterations of the dangers of accepting work from strangers. “If someone promises you a good job, you may well end up as a slave on a fishing vessel.” And sometimes Kru Nang finds the children real work. Right now several street children in her care are selling Be Magazine and its sister publications on the Bangkok streets – a wonderful alternative to begging or stealing.
On Mother’s Day last week, a group of street children who live by the Rama I Bridge called Kru Nang and asked to see her. They said it was urgent that they meet with her that day.
When Kru Nang arrived, the street children presented her with garlands of flowers and told her that in their hearts, Kru Nang is their mother. (Photo below. See full gallery here.)
A Former Mercy Kindergarten Student
When Wanwisa Promsote graduated from one of our Mercy Kindergartens almost twenty years ago, we knew she was clever, but back then our primary concern was simply to keep her in school. Since her family had no money for books, uniforms or any school fees, we sponsored Wanwisa’s education through high school and helped prepare her for a scholarship program at United World College – Nordic Red Cross.
Following an International Baccalaureate Degree from United World College, she earned a B.A. degree with honors (Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in the US and is now working towards her PhD in Neuroscience and teaching Biochemistry to medical students in Atlanta. I would like to share with you the title of her first published research paper, which appeared in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology: “Cysteamine treatment ameliorates alterations in GAD67 expression and spatial memory in heterozygous reeler mice.”Wanwisa tells us, it’s about a possible treatment for schizophrenia.
We are proud of Wanwisa and every student who learns to read and write in a Mercy classroom.
Sharing Our Knowledge
As pioneer HIV/AIDS caregivers in Thailand (our original hospice opened in 1993), we were the first community organization in the slums to create a bridge for poor patients in the transition between hospital care and homecare.
In the past decade, dozens of HIV/AIDS organizations from around the region have visited our Mercy Centre and asked us to teach them what we’ve learned. Last week, in Mae Sot along the Thai-Burma border, we held our first HIV/AIDS Community Workshop. The workshop brought together three organizations that work with refugees and migrant populations. Following the workshop, representatives from each organization came to Mercy Centre this week to join our teams on homecare visits, learn our methodology, and share our knowledge with their teams in Mae Sot.Our next workshop will be held in Laos later this year, and several more workshops will follow in 2012.
Forty Years Later…
Forty years in the slums may seem like a long time. And it is true that most of our original kindergarten students are now mothers and fathers, some even young grandmoms. Several Mercy Kindergarten alumni now teach children in the very same kindergartens where they learned their Thai ABC’s.
But for Mercy Centre, forty years is just a speck of time. We have thousands and thousands more slum children to care for and send to school. And we still have much to learn.
Finally, thank you everybody for your support. Please stay in touch with us through Facebook. We are HDF Mercy Centre at http://www.facebook.com/pages/HDF-Mercy-Centre/111736703963.
Wishing all our friends a beautiful, happy and healthy summer with family and friends,
Usanee and the Mercy Teams