First Day of school 1

Last week was the official beginning of the new school year in Thailand.  For our House Moms and Dads at Mercy, who take care of almost 180 children, the whole first week is a super big deal.

On the day before the actual first official school day, we took an informal (and very unscientific) survey to see which group among our Mercy children was feeling the most excitement.  Here’s what we found out:

Our teenagers, especially our boys who live on our farm, were 101 percent joyful at the prospect of returning to school. After spending much of their school holiday tilling the fields and planting rice and vegetables, they said they are looking forward to less strenuous activities like dissecting frogs in biology class and figuring out algebra. (One boy, Ek, age 20, is now earning a vocational college degree in agriculture in Kanchanburi province. He says he will return to our Mercy farm after graduation to teach the other boys best methods and practices.)

farm 1

Our middle-schoolers said they couldn’t wait to get back to their old friends and new studies. They were ecstatic!

Our eleven children who attend local vocational college and universities know what they want to do and are taking their next academic steps with confidence, their eyes wide open. Or so they say. If they change their minds, we won’t mind, as long as they keep going to school.

Of course, our first grade students – we have eight total – were beaming, almost electrified, by their joy at the prospect of the first day of class.

They couldn’t believe, after graduating from our three-year kindergarten, that they would finally be going to a real  “BIG KID” school. On the day before their first day, they prepared by putting on their new uniforms, sharpening their new pencils, and placing their books and stationery in their new book bags.  (Kind of makes you wish you were a kindergarten teacher.)

Our House Moms said that our First Graders were beside themselves with anticipation and could barely fall asleep. They giggled and whispered secrets to one another long into the night.

first Day of School 3

And the first day of school did not disappoint!

For our house moms and house dads, sending our kids off to school on that first day was a huge relief.

Imagine having to fit out 180 growing children with shoes and uniforms, backpacks, stationery, books, plus transportation, lunch, and after school allowance. Plus candy money for our 31 primary school children.

Plus… imagine the logistics of transporting kids to over two dozen different schools every day – public, parochial, and international schools, special needs schools, vocational colleges and universities.

What the new school year means to Mercy:

The Janusz Korcaak School. Over 40 children attend our special street kids school – kids who have no other place to learn or make friends, including street kids, kids with minor disabilities, and several Cambodian kids who lack the documentation required to enroll in formal public schools.

First Day of School 2

Kindergartens. Over 2,500 students are attending our 23 slum kindergartens throughout Bangkok, which include two construction camp preschools, one in Samut Prakarn, the other, surrounded by high rise luxury condos, in a tiny street running between Sukhumvit 24 and 26.

Education Sponsorships and Emergency Sponsorship Funds.  Children in our kindergartens whose parents cannot afford our 10 baht (30 US cents) daily fee also can’t afford the costs of uniforms, books, and stationery. We take care of the school costs for these children and enroll them in our education sponsorship program. Over 350 of the very poorest children currently have Mercy education sponsors, from kindergarten onward.

Reform Schools. Through the Thai juvenile courts, we have arranged to look after more than forty former street kids who have been placed in government reform schools. When they complete their academic school year, many will join us back in Mercy.

Education for Sea Gypsy Children.  In Ranong Province on the island of Koh Lao, we supervise the education of over 100 ethnic Mokan children. The young ones are enrolled in our kindergarten on the island while their older brothers and sisters are boarded in our home in Ranong, where they attend primary and secondary schools. Two of the oldest children are now earning vocational college degrees. Is this a revolution? We hope so! (Not one of their parents on Koh Lao ever learned to read and write.)

This morning I passed a first year kindergarten classroom filled with three-year-old girls and boys singing the “Elephant Song” in glorious unison, just as their moms and grandparents and great-grandparents sang before them. Such a beautiful site!