By Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Bangkok Post, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, Spectrum Section
There's a quiet revolution stirring amid the ponds of Klong Toey, where students are taught to ask questions and dare to speak out
Let me tell you about an old-time Klong Toey revolutionary: a slum kindergarten teacher. Still going strong in her seventh cycle of years – that makes her more than 72. But don't dare ask her if her beautiful hair is turning slightly grey, even around the edges. No guns, no knives, only pencils and paper and nursery rhymes. You'd say: ''What? A kindergarten teacher revolutionary? You're daft.'' But that's the gig. As long as she can remember, that horrible proverb rattled around in her head – not enough children to tend our water buffalo. Even as a little girl, she told her mum, that's not right. And schoolmarm mum said: ''You're right my daughter, so you change that.”
She's dangerous beyond ''their'' worst fears. ''They'' are the ones who say we need more factories. We have enough schools. An even worse crime, she tells kids it's okay to question what adults say. It's okay for her students to say out loud what they think is right and wrong. And to be praised for the saying of it – not told to hush up. Another part of her crime – believing that every child, especially the girls, must go to school.
She's helplessly and hopelessly in love with teaching. To teach every slum child she meets to count, read and write. How many kids has she taught? At last count a couple years ago, a bunch over 2,000 girls and boys –math, reading, writing, telling nursery rhymes. And she's still teaching today.
We are a poor community organization, and usually at a loss when it comes to raising funds. It’s no exaggeration: fundraising is not our strength. What we’re best at is in protecting, sheltering, and educating the poorest and most vulnerable children. At fundraising, we struggle and stumble on.
This Saturday is different! With help from friends and family, we are doubly blessed!
Two fundraising events on behalf of our children are happening, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.
Event #1: The Oriental FANtastic Fundraisier: A 10-KM Walk or Run in Lumpini Park, sponsored by the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. Presiding over the event will be Bangkok Governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who will fire the starting pistol at 8am. Following the run, you can enjoy a family fun day in the park plus a luncheon feast prepared by the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s culinary team. For more information, please contact the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok at 02 659-9000.
Event #2: Classical Music for Mercy: Acclaimed classical pianist Marina Baranova will perform music to move, soothe, and uplift the spirit, all in the name of Mercy. Presiding over the event will be HRH Princess Srirasmi. Time and place: Trinity Hall, St. Joseph Convent School, 3:30. For more information and tickets, please visit ticketmajor.com or call 02 262-3456. Tickets range from 500 to 2,000 baht.
Wait! One more event! In the evening, at 8:30, our Mercy Children’s Thai Classical Orchestra will be performing in front of Central World on behalf of the “1Love Playing for Change Foundation,” with all proceeds going to teach music…and love…and peace to poor children worldwide. Following a full day of fundraisers, our children will be giving back in kind, as best they can.
We invite everyone to join us at any or all of these events! Hope to see you this Saturday!
Kind regards and prayers,
Fr. Joe Maier
Director and Co-founder
This past Saturday a fire broke out in Pai Sing To, a small slum community located across the street from the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. Thankfully, nobody was injured, but in its wake, 22 houses were destroyed, leaving 31 families, including 71 individuals, without a place to live. Most adult victims work as day laborers, food vendors, maids, and security guards, earning close to the legal minimum daily wage.
As the fire was being put out, our social workers arrived and began providing emergency relief. And when the final embers were doused, we also began working with those left homeless and their community leaders to start rebuilding.
We have already provided each homeless family with the costs for clothes, tools, food and all necessities, plus new school uniforms, school books, back-packs, and stationery for their children.
The families who lost their homes are currently residing in the Pai Sing To community center, which for many years past had been one of our Mercy kindergartens.
In these situations, urgent action is always required. If the residents are stalled in rebuilding their homes, outside forces will likely step in to have them permanently removed. In the case of Pai Sing To, a small and powerless community, there are powerful outside forces who wish to demolish the entire community and build something in its place for other people.
In the past 41 years, our foundation has built over ten thousand homes following devastating slum fires. We are well versed in every possible contingency. One thing we know for certain: the faster the residents remove debris and begin to rebuild, the less likely they will be challenged to leave.
Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Dear Family and Friends,
Please join us this September 21, 3:30pm, at Trinity Hall, St. Joseph Convent School, where world-acclaimed pianist Marina Baranova will perform music to move, soothe, and uplift the spirit, all in the name of Mercy.
All proceeds from the Classical Mercy Music Concert will go to support our child protection programs – to shelter, nurture, and educate our Mercy children and protect the most vulnerable children living in the slums and on the streets. We have never turned away a child in need; and with kind friends and family, we never will.
We owe everything in our world of Mercy to our family and friends. You make our Mercy Centre more beautiful, more welcoming, and more joyous.
Please welcome HRH Princess Srirasmi, the Royal Patron of our Human Development Foundation, who will be attending this special concert event. Our foundation’s founder, Father Joe Maier, and many of our closest friends and family in Bangkok will also be in attendance. Naturally we want to share our most important experiences and events with you, and we hope to see you at the concert.
Fr. Wirach Amonpattana, C.Ss.R.
P.S. You can purchase tickets at Thai Ticket Major: thaiticketmajor.com or call 02 262-3456. Tickets range from 500 to 2,000 baht.
Being homeless and watching over her three younger siblings whenever mum went off on a meth binge was a way of life for young Tangmo, and she accepted her fate without question. Now the children are in school and they've got a roof over their heads instead of a road.
Published in Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013
By Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Tangmo (Watermelon) tries to be as good and loving as any mum on the planet, but she's only eight, and she worries a lot about her five-year-old brother and the twins. Not that there's really much to worry about there: he's happy and the twins are jolly three-year-old eating machines. Her mum, back in rehab? That's a worry, but it's nothing new.
Like the time the police arrested mum again after she'd been sick and violent on meth and was coming down, on domicum mixed with methadone.Minutes before the police arrived, Tangmo (she prefers to be called Daeng) had grabbed her younger brother and the twins and ran to the safety of a rickety bamboo-shack karaoke bar under the expressway. She woke up the old man who's always asleep at the door to let them in to hide from mum.
Here are just a few quick notes about Mercy that we want very much to share with our friends.
First, as always, our new children:
Four children joined our Mercy family last week. The eldest, Miss Watermelon, age 9, had been looking after and protecting her three younger siblings as best she was able – trying to make sure they had enough to eat, a place to sleep, and a safe place to play – but that’s a lot of responsibility for a young child. To pay for food and clothes, she often could be found begging on the streets beside crowded pedestrian walkways.
Miss Watermelon is fearless. On her first day at Mercy, she taught herself how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. She didn’t look for an adult to congratulate her. She just kept riding.
Today Miss Watermelon is enrolled in our Janusz Korczak School of S.E. Asia for Street Children while her sister and two brothers – Ben, Baht, and Goff – now attend our Lock 6 Mercy Kindergarten. (Photo, from left, Twins -Baht and Ben, Watermelon, and Goff.)
The children of Mercy welcome US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
This past Saturday morning, our Mercy children opened their hearts to welcome the US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and members of the US CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
Our children loved the visit!
As Secretary Sebelius stepped inside our Mercy Centre, our children presented her with garlands of orchids while our Classical Thai Kids Orchestra performed their favorite old songs. A Mercy girl, Duangjai Meechai, age 21 – formally an abandoned child living in Lumpini Park and now enrolled at Assumption University in Bangkok – gave Secretary Sebelius a tour of Mercy Centre. Miss Duangchai was joined by her Mercy brothers and sisters in our art room, computer room, kindergarten, and the most fun room of all – our playroom (a delightful madhouse!) with 35 of our little ones riding on kiddy jungle gyms, slides, and rocking horses.
Secretary Sebelius and the CDC staff visited our Mercy Centre in recognition of our HIV/AIDS efforts throughout Bangkok’s poorest slum communities. Our HIV/AIDS programs started when we opened Bangkok’s first AIDS hospice for the poor, which we operated from 1993-2012. Once we opened our hospice, we also began pioneering community-based home care in the slums. Today we are recognized as leaders in community-based AIDS care, and our teams share their knowledge and experience in workshops they conduct throughout Thailand and Laos, and soon Myanmar. Here at Mercy, spread across all six of our shelters, over 60 children were born with HIV. And we care for hundreds more children who live with their families in Bangkok’s poorest neighborhoods.Photos from top - i) Children welcome US Secretary; ii) Secretary Sebelius with Mercy Child; iii) CDC, Fr. Joe and Mercy staff and children. Photo gallery here.
Our Mercy boys play soccer in Poland!
They didn’t win, exactly. But of the 21 teams that competed in the first international soccer tournament for children living in group shelters, our Mercy boys didn’t lose either. In a vote by all players and referees, our boys earned the trophy for sportsmanship and conduct on and off the field. They played competitively and won the respect of every team. (Photo gallery here.)
(Here’s something even more amazing and wonderful: two boys on our team take anti-viral medications every day. Born with HIV, orphaned early in life, left in the care of the State before they joined our family, they have been beating the odds for years. And they’ve only just started. )
Fr. Wirach and Fr. Jittipol chaperoned our children in Poland and they made sure our boys experienced the beauty of Polish culture. Anticipating our kids’ dietary needs, Fr. Wirach packed plenty of mama noodles and jars full of chili peppers. Can you imagine chili peppers in your borscht or on your pierogies? Our children not only can, but insist it’s the only way.
The Royal Thai Ambassador to the Republic of Poland, HE Bansarn Bunnag, gave our boys great honor. He attended their soccer matches, cheered them on from the crowd, and at the end of the tournament invited them to dine at one of Warsaw’s oldest Thai restaurants. If you ask our children, that dinner was among their finest moments off the field.
Another highlight was their visit to the orphanage where Janusz Korczak and his children lived until they were removed to the Jewish Ghetto in 1940 on their way to the Treblinka death camp.
Our kids – orphans themselves – were proud to give honor to Janusz Korczak and his children.
And we feel justly proud of our own children.
Thank you, as always, for all your kind words and every way you support our Mercy Centre.