When you visit a shack where poor children live, you'll find that they have next to nothing they can call their own: no toys, no books, not even a mattress to sleep on. Worst of all for the poorest of these children, they have no chance to go to school.
These children cannot afford school fees, books, uniforms, daily lunch or transportation. Their parents have no dependable income, and often collect recyclable garbage for daily rent and a few bowls of rice. In many cases, their parents have left them in the care of a destitute grandmom or auntie.
We send these kids to school.
We dig deep into our own pockets and find kind sponsors from around the world to make sure these children have a chance in life.
Last week over 300 of the poorest of these Bangkok slum children held their annual party at our Mercy Centre. The older children organized the party themselves; chose the gifts to give out to the younger children (most popular item – a bedroll); cooked and served the food; gave inspired speeches; and rallied their friends in a grand celebration of life – a celebration of going to school! (Photo gallery here.)
Following the floods that inundated Bangkok this past October, we initiated a comprehensive emergency relief campaign in several slum communities. With support from friends around the world, we were able to reach out to thousands of the poorest of the poor in desperate need, providing emergency assistance, food, lodging (in our preschools), and home repairs.
The scope of our emergency flood relief efforts:
Families Over 700
Emergency Packages: Over 1, 500
Bags (5 kgs/each) of Rice Over 1,000
Drinking Water: We supplied thousands of gallons of drinking water throughout the slums.
Kindergartens: several Mercy Kindergartens were affected and required major repairs, new furniture, teaching materials, and equipment. We are happy to report that all our schools remained open with some schools moving to temporary quarters on higher ground. Many students were transported to our schools by way of boats and rafts. Today all our schools are fully operational at their original sites.
We wish to thank all of you who supported our efforts!
On January 26, 2012, The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand gave recognition to Fr. Joe and six other fighters for equality at its annual awards ceremony, held here in Bangkok.
The award recognizes national heroes who have the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves. Two of the seven recipients – labor activist Thanong Podiarn and lawyer Somchai Neelapjit – have disappeared and are presumed to have been killed in their struggle for equality.
In accepting his award, Fr. Joe spoke of what such recognition means: “This award,” he said, “is not about yesterday. It is about tomorrow. It means that you trust us to continue to do what is universally right. It gives us strength and courage to continue our struggles. It is a promise on our part – a promise to help defend the rights of street children and to make every effort to help every poor child and street kid in need, and to send them all to school.”
Father Joe continued, “Finally, this award recognizes that we are not alone in our struggles. It honors everyone who works and lives at our Mercy Centre. It is recognition that our teachers and social workers at Mercy Centre are the real heroes to all the throw-away children who live on the streets.”
Fr. Joe was the sole foreign-born Thai resident honored at the annual ceremony. Previously, he has received several lifetime achievement awards, most notably, in 2004, when Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand presented a lifetime achievement award to Fr. Joe as the foreign resident “who has contributed the most to the promotion of the status and protection of women and children in Thailand.”
Pictured above: Fr. Joe with fellow award recipient Patimoh Poh-I-Taeda-Oh of the Yala-based WePeace Group.
Last year we experienced horrifying civil strife in Bangkok. This year we have devastating floods. But no matter what is happening outside, in Mercy Centre our children rule the day, mostly with their laughter and smiles. For a glimpse into their everyday lives, please visit our new photo gallery here. All photos by Rick Ashley.
Dear EveryoneIt's 22 November 2011 in Bangkok. Day 26 since our first slum kindergarten flooded. - a total of eight went under water. In three slums, the water came up in an hour. Water to the ceiling. The children are safe, everything was soaked. In my letter of a couple weeks ago, I said 10 schools were going under water. I believed 'the T.V. weather guru'.. but in truth only eight flooded and 750 children lost their schools, most of them lost their homes also. Our other 14 schools are in slums on dry ground, and school is back in session as normal.
As I write this today, some of the waters have gone down some. Our shack'school buildings are a mess, but we have patched and scrubbed and cleaned to get them functional, at least temporarily to get the kids back in school. Future repairs will be a head-ache, but I don't even want to think about that right now.
The slum peoples have all helped. Most important, re-wired the buildings since the electrical outlets were flooded, rusted and dangerous as can be - for shorting out and electrocuting people. We got the toilets working - bought new kitchen equipment, brought in clean drinking water. Books and pencils etc etc etc. Eighteen of our teachers (whose homes have been totally flooded also) have moved into the schools, as they have no where else to go. We have bought mosquito nets, sleeping equipment, refrigerator, fans, - a small old fashioned clothes washing & dryer to make their lives as comfortable as possible....under the circumstances. Got them new mobile phones, as most of them had lost their phones in the floods. We have resumed class (after a fashion) in five slums. Of the 550 slum children who usually attend these five kindergartens shack/schools, 250 are back in class. The other children are still literally "Up country in the Rural Provinces" staying with their grand parents - for safety. They are slowly returning to Bangkok.
Three other slums, where we have schools, according to the Weather man.. it will take another 45 days for the waters to go down. Two hundred children attend these schools. We are trying to do what we can to begin school as soon as possible. We did some 'horse trading' with the marine police who received 750 small plastic boats from the Government of China (the boats hold a maximum of 8 children) - the police let us use two boats and small putt-putt motors So the teachers, somewhat captive in their flooded schools have freedom to travel in the boats - also if one of the children get sick, etc, they have transportation. We have been lucky thus far, only two children and one teacher have been bitten by creepy-crawlies. Nothing serious, but they have had to 'shoo shoo away a few snakes, also looking for a dry place to live.!!!
So in conclusion - we're doing our best. Some of the children are back in school. That is so vital. Our teachers are real heroes - beyond belief, living, in difficult circumstances..!
Also with this, I am sending you a U-Tube link which a friend from Australia did for us. It's filmed near the slaughter house, thus near the river, with the tides going up and down twice daily. But it does give you an idea.
Again - I want to thank all of you - the worst is yet to come, and the crisis still exists, but the urgency is a bit less. Please do continue to help, if you can. In a couple weeks, I will send you my annual Christmas Letter - and promise I will not talk of floods...
All of you are wonderful. Prayers Respectfully
fr joe & all of us here at Mercy Centre.