Published July 10, The Guardian - Global Development Professsionals Network. Complete article and text here. Usanee Janngeon writes about the evolution of the Human Development Foundation-Mercy Centre's HIV/AIDS Program - from a "dumping ground for the dying" to offering all-inclusive home-based care. Photo above: Mercy Centre staff training Mae Tao clinic staff in community-based homecare.
For over 10 years, the Human Development Foundation – Mercy Centre's Aids hospice was the first, largest and only free Aids hospice in Bangkok, Thailand. At first, Mercy was known as a dumping ground for dying people. Then we changed our general policy and, apart from the truly indigent, only accepted patients with their relatives' involvement. Over the years as the treatments improved, our hospice became a place of hope for the future where people could recover and go back to the community and their family.
We learned that HIV is not about one person, it's about the whole family. We created three-way partnerships between our hospice staff, patients and their families. We asked the families to share in the hospice care of their family members, and in return, we provided counselling to the families and taught them home-care skills. The patients also agreed that they would contribute to the maintenance of the hospice as much as they were able to.
It often took several months of counselling, sometimes even years, to unite families and patients and bring them home. It was rarely easy. As our home-care programme expanded, we were able to close our hospice in 2012 and now all our Aids care is done in the community.
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.
Miss Jaew Waew was born to a European father and a Thai mother with penchant for gambling and booze. Her dad has been there to help her in the past and she believes he will be there again in the future for her own daughter.
Published by Bangkok Post, Sunday, June 16, Spectrum Section
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
The first time, 12 years ago, it was an easy rescue. Her dad, a European man, kicked down the door, barged in and beat up the two bad guys with his fists, cracked their skulls with a beer bottle, and picked up his three-year-old daughter, Miss Jew Waew. He waved down a taxi and brought her to us at Mercy. He had heard that we took care of abandoned kids.
The taxi driver was a Klong Toey man who knew us, so no questions and no charge. Dad cradled his daughter, sleeping the sleep of innocence in his arms. A friend riding a big motorbike followed the taxi as an escort, to avoid any surprises - just in case the beat-up bad guys got stupid, maybe phoning acquaintances and asking them to follow the taxi.
When dad arrived at Mercy, he didn't close the taxi door, lest the sound wake his daughter. We got him a couple of Band-Aids for his cut knuckles. This giant, sobbing tattooed warrior handed us his daughter and a wrinkled birth certificate. All he could say was: ''Please love her. I'll come back when I can.'' He thanked the taxi driver, left some money on the seat, then jumped on the back of his friend's big bike and he was gone.
They’ve never been outside of Thailand. Never held a passport. Never flown on a plane. And most certainly never eaten latkes or pierogies. But today ten Mercy boys are flying to Poland to compete in a three-day international soccer tournament to be held in Warsaw – with transport and housing expenses paid by tournament organizers. All teams, including, of course, our Mercy team, will be represented by children who live in group shelters. What a fantastic experience! Our children never thought they would ever see or do anything much beyond their neighborhood slum. Today they’re in Poland! We feel their excitement, and will be sharing their experience with you in the coming days. Photos above and below - our boys at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, ready to take off!
This month and next, we are sponsoring either our 14th or 15th (depending on who’s counting) Klong Toey Slaughterhouse Youth Soccer Tournament. Over 650 poor kids from all over Klong Toey are competing on the cement pitch beside the Klong Toey Slaughterhouse. Some teams have been practicing for months while others have never competed before. Every kid gets a chance to play. And every kid comes out a winner! (More details in Fr. Joe’s newsletter below.) The photos above and below were taken during the third week of competition. All photos by Diane Durongpisitkul. Please visit the photo gallery here.
Bursts of joy fill our days at Mercy, and we wish we could share each of these moments with our friends.
There's much to share with you right now.
First, our most special news: five children joined our Mercy family in just the past few weeks.
Two new Mercy children are orphaned brothers – Bia, age seven, and Ohm, age ten. After their parents died, they ended up on the street spending their days in front of a 7-11 convenience store – wisely, as they knew that was the best place to be safe and to beg, as the stores are open 24 hours a day. Weeks and months passed before a kind-hearted slum lady reported their plight to the child welfare/anti-trafficking ministry. The ministry placed them in a temporary shelter upcountry, and then sent Bia and Ohm to us, knowing here at Mercy, they are safe and loved.
Another boy, Aht, age 10, was also moved to Mercy from a temporary children’s shelter. His dad, a Thai national, had passed away, and his mom, a Cambodian national without documents, has no means to support her child for now.
A brother and sister have also joined us – Gahn, a boy age 4, and Bai Fern, a girl age 7. Their parents, dirt poor and itinerant, passed the children to the mom's parents. The grandparents tried their best, but now they are quite elderly, feeble, and unable to look after their grandchildren. Neither child had ever gone to school.
Bia, Ohm, Aht, Gahn, and Bai Fern aren’t alone any more. They aren’t begging for scraps to survive. They aren’t hungry. They aren’t scared. They won’t be trafficked. They’ve made new friends at Mercy and at school. They’re a bit behind their age peers at school (three of them attend our Janusz Korczak School for Street Children), but they don’t care. They’ll catch up. And for now, they’re happy. They get to be children again. (Photo: Top row - House Mom Mae Puerng, Ohm, and Bia; bottom row - Aht, Gahn and Bai Fern.)
Congratulations to our Mercy Graduates.
Our Miss Rose (above left), an orphan Mercy girl since age 12, received her high school diploma at the Ruamrudee International School graduation ceremony held this past Sunday. To make this happen, first Rose had to prove herself in Thai public school through Primary and Middle School. Then, since all classes at Ruamrudee International School are conducted in the English language, she had to teach herself English pretty much from scratch, with help and tutoring from our volunteers. Earning a full scholarship, Rose still struggled during her first classes at Ruamrudee but studied hard and succeeded. During her senior year, she became a mom and found time somewhere between raising her child and starting a new home to complete her classes. We are hugely proud of Rose!
Our Miss Maew (above right), a slum girl whose education we had sponsored for many years, completed an I.B. Degree from United World Colleges and then entered university in the US on full scholarship. This past May, Maew received her B.A. diploma (double major – International Development and Asian Studies, GPA – 3.3) from Clark University in Massachusetts. Her next goal, while she works here at Mercy, is a Master’s Degree in International Human Resources Management.
Kindergarten classes begin. Chaos reigns!
Our 23 Mercy Kindergartens opened for the new school year just a few weeks ago. (Introductory photo, top of page) Two new schools joined our Mercy roster, both in construction workers camp sites. Our total enrollment this year is 2,546.
We’ve seen the chaos of the first week of classes every year for the past 41 years, so we know what to expect and how to prepare: we arm our teachers with boxes of tissues as hundreds of school children, separated from their moms and grandmas for the very first time in their young lives, cry in terror as if their world has ended.
Then they get over it. By the second or third days, their cries turn into soft whimpers. By the end of the first week the school children feel confident that their moms will pick them up at the end of each school day. They have triumphed over their fears and now love going to school!
Starting around 8:30 every school day, we hear the children reciting their lessons – gorgeous renditions of the Thai and English ABCs, beautiful children’s songs, and ancient nursery rhymes reverberating throughout our Mercy Centre. These are just a few of the bursts of joy I mentioned earlier.
Slum Youth Soccer Tournament:
Over 650 poor kids are playing soccer and over fifty teams are competing every Saturday and Sunday for the next six weeks on the cement pitch beside the slaughterhouse.
This is our14th (or maybe our 15th, we’ve lost count) Mercy Centre Klong Toey Slaughterhouse Youth Soccer Tournament.
Slum dads and old slum hands come by to cheer and mentor their children. Local gangsters and young toughs hang out on the sidelines and keep the playgrounds safe (photo, above right). Our referees, who have been refereeing these tournaments for the past twenty years, don’t just blow their whistles. They teach and mentor the kids, too, as each game is played out.
And the kids imitate their favorite footballers. Every player is a winner!
An Honor Beyond Belief
What does it mean to work and stand together with the poor? A friend and fellow Redemptorist asked me this question and recorded my reply in an interview linked below. It’s not easy to put in words but I tried to tell the truth:
Thank you, as always, for your friendship and support.
The 4th "Music 4 Kids" Bangkok blues festival is happening this coming weekend, May 31-June 1. This year the festival will be hosted by Apoteke Bar and Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Organized by Jeff Thomsen of the Soi Dog Blues Band, he is bringing together ten bands over two nights. Proceeds and t-shirt sales go to help our Mercy kids. It's fantastic music! Please join us!
Narisaraporn Asipong builds a sense of belonging for Saphan Phut street kids
This article, focusing on one of our street social workers, was published in the Bangkok Post, Life Section, May 21, 2013
by Napamon Roongwitoo
The first thing that greets an outsider who steps into the small patch of garden under Saphan Phut (Memorial Bridge) is a strong stench of urine. Male underwear is strewn carelessly on the ground, while a toddler plays by himself - not in a crib, but in a battered foam box. There is no roof. There is no toilet. There is no furniture except for a few floor mats.
This is what 60 lives call home, and it is the only home they know.
Narisaraporn Asipong, known affectionately by her students as Khru Nang, has spent the majority of her time with these "homeless kids" for 12 years. With a determination to make a difference to society, she left her home in Si Sa Ket and travelled to Bangkok to join the Mercy Center, working as a volunteer teacher for street children around Saphan Phut.
Over 60 Mercy children took off to the beach last week, where they belly-flopped into the waves and buried each other in sand castles.
This week our kids start the new school year refreshed, invigorated, and ready to tackle long division, multiplication tables, the dissection of frogs and whatever homework assignments come their way. Many thanks to the Qantas Cabin Crew for the beautiful holiday. Photo gallery here.
Tears, tears, and more tears, mixed with shouts of delight and plenty of laughter.
Gorgeous renditions of both the Thai and English alphabet...
beautiful old children's songs...
and ancient nursery rhymes.
The first day of the new school year has finally arrived!
Our 23 Mercy kindergartens opened yesterday to welcome almost 3,000 slum children – tomorrow’s scholars – ages three to seven years old, who are ready to gain their first lessons on a path to a lifetime love of learning.