After a devastating fire, the Rama 9 community is whole once again. Thank you so much for your support!
Last April a fire ripped through an old squatter-slum community in the Rama 9 neighborhood. In total fifty-one homes were destroyed or badly damaged, leaving 178 residents homeless, including 61 children and eleven grandmoms and granddads.
Most adults in this slum community work as day laborers, maids, security guards, motorbike messengers, and street food vendors who sell noodles, fruit and snacks from their mobile carts. On a good day these families are able to earn the legal minimum daily wage (300 baht - approx. US $10).
Like most slum residents, before the fire they were already over-burdened with household debt. Following the fire they had lost all that they had ever called their own.
The community leaders and residents asked our Mercy Centre to assist them, as we have in the past for dozens of communities throughout the city following major slum fires.
Our outreach and housing teams worked hand in hand with the community, starting with emergency aid, including food and shelter. We also helped organize the community in petitioning the government welfare and housing departments for aid in rebuilding their homes; and these petitions were succesful: the local governement did provide some support and in doing so recognized those left homeless as legal residents.
There were obstacles all along the way. Even removing the debris left in the wake of the fire was a major hurdle.
(Newly rebuilt homes. Mercy Centre was responsible for rebuilding almost forty new homes, which include plumbing, a toilet, and electricity.)
Your support for Mercy Centre provided the materials and labor to help the Rama 9 community reubild. Your gifts allowed families to stay together. Your gifts meant that the moms and dads did not have to quit their jobs, go further in debt, and move their families to a distant slum neighborhood. They could still work close to home. And their children could attend the same schools, including the neighborhood kidnergarten, which we built and operated for the community for many years. The children could keep their old friends, too, and grow up together in the neighborhood they have always considered home.
On behalf of everyone here at Mercy Centre and the entire Rama 9 community, we wish to extend our most heartfelt thanks.
A rooftop view of the rebuilt Rama 9 community.
Link to review here. Full text below: Reviewed by Greg Barrett, author and journalist
First, full disclosure. I wrote the book on Father Joe Maier, the cursing, curmudgeon, can-do priest of Bangkok. Literally. The Gospel of Father Joe, it was titled. But that 315-page effort doesn't preclude me from being honest with you about his latest book, The Open Gate of Mercy: Stories from Bangkok's Klong Toey Slum. Frankly, if I didn't keep it real he'd probably break my kneecaps. (That part is figurative. I think.)Father Joe, who turns 73 on Halloween, is a native of working-class Longview, Washington, but he has lived among the poorest of the poor in Thailand for some forty years. In 1971, long before Mother Teresa was a holy icon and eight years before she won the Nobel Peace Prize, the great nun of Calcutta visited with Father Joe in Bangkok's flood-prone shantytowns. Father Joe showed her the Klong Toey slums that house tens of thousands of homeless families, and as they walked the rickety catwalks that hold the poor aloft (barely) over dung-brown lakes of sewage, Mother Teresa fell quiet. Seeing mile upon soggy mile of the desperate poor she declared Bangkok's abyss to be every bit as sorrowful as the squatter camps in Calcutta. Leaving, she made one request of Father Joe. It was a doozy.
Thursday October 4th, 2012 – 8pm
At The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
"An Evening with Father Joe: Slum Priest"
Father Joe will talk about his 40 years in Klong Toey and the adults and children behind the stories in his new book, “The Open Gate of Mercy.”
From the Foreign Correspondents Club off Thailand:
Father Joseph Maier, the priest of Klong Toey slum, is a familiar figure in Bangkok and beyond. Since 1967 Father Joe has lived among the poorest of the poor in Thailand and Laos, and since 1972 he has served as the Parish Priest to the Catholic community in the slaughterhouse neighborhood in Klong Toey, Bangkok, which is how he became known as "The Slaughterhouse Priest."
I will miss the day-to-day life at our beautiful Mercy Centre.
After 22 years here, the last six years as Executive Director, I am taking everything I have learned from Fr. Joe, Sister Maria, our children, our patients and all my co-workers to explore new opportunities outside of Mercy Centre, especially those opportunities relating to HIV/AIDS home-based and community care.
It’s impossible to explain how much I will miss Mercy: the rhythm of life here is almost unbearably lovely – the daily celebrations of our children, the chorus of cheers and laughter coming from our kindergartens, the dignity of the elderly grandmoms and granddads who drop by as a part of our Mercy family. There is nothing I have ever seen or experienced like the joys of Mercy.
But while I am giving up my day-to-day duties at Mercy, I will continue to work on Mercy’s behalf and will help lead our teams as we conduct HIV Homecare workshops for community health organizations in Thailand, Laos, Bhutan and the areas bordering Burma. I will also continue to help coordinate with our sister charities - Mercy Centre UK and Mercy Centre Australia.
Please continue to support us and help in every way you can. Our Mercy Centre remains a beautiful celebration of life.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R. Published Sept. 23, 2012, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum
She has mostly had to learn everything herself. Mum couldn't be there for her, and Miss Dao also has to take care of Granny, as she'd promised her mother. You know, things like mixing her betel nut chaw and holding her hand crossing the street. She has three older half-brothers and a half-sister, but they aren't close. Her half-sister is married, and Dao only saw her once at the temple for her mother's cremation.
Dao is now seven years old and knows it wasn't her mother's fault. She doesn't blame her for ''borrowing'' those things whose owner didn't want them to be borrowed. Mum knew that drug dealer would beat her up, even kill her if she didn't do as she was told. The judge? He didn't like her mother. He'd dealt with her before. She was sentenced to three years.Granny's only income was her old age government pension, and 500 baht a month is not enough to raise a granddaughter. They'd both starve. That's how Miss Dao came to grow up with us, and had to learn her amazing feats on her own.
Over 2, 500 slum children attend daily.
Our schools follow the Thai national kindergarten curriculum; and our school children learn to read, write, count, play, dance, say nice words, fight germs, and sing the old songs, the same ones our mothers and grandmothers taught us when we were young.
Our daily school fees -10 baht (30 baht = approx.US $1) per student - cover just a small fraction of the real costs to operate our schools. Although this 10 baht fee does not come close to covering expences, it empowers the parents and guardians to take ownership of their neighborhood school and value their children's education.
The daily school fee is waived for over 20% of our students - those whose parents and guardians are destitute.
One in five children who enters our schools is malnourished. All children receive a nutritious hot lunch, protein snacks, fruit and milk every school day.
In recent years we have formally handed over 11 Mercy preschools to their slum communities. These long-standing schools have helped to strengthen the surrounding communities to the point where the community leaders and parents can now operate their own schools themselves without our daily assistance. We remain as advisors to these schools and provide counsel and resources whenever needed.
In the past 40 years, over 40,000 poor children have graduated from our kindergartens with a head start as they enter government primary schools.
Last week our Mercy children, along with our kindergarten students, our staff, and neighbors, invited the monks from our local temple Wat Saphan to celebrate Mother's Day together as a community. Our children gave alms; the monks gave blessings, and we stood together in praise of all the goodness our moms bring to our beloved Klong Toey. Photos by Guillaume Megevand. Photo gallery here.
Dance and music help heal our Mercy children. Because our children were abandoned, used, and abused before coming to Mercy, many had lost their way. They forgot, or couldn't feel, what it means to be kids and to embrace each new day with hope and joy. Our Classical Music and Dance Program helps them express themselves and find their way back to being children once again. Plus it's just plain old good fun! Photo gallery here.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
A woman who grew up experiencing the worst of urban life still held to a fantasy of one day having a 'proper' wedding and despite staggering odds against her she found out that there is always room for hope.
Published August 5, 2012, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum
Ever since she was 11 and on the streets, Noi had always dreamed she would get married in the proper style, with a dowry, a ring and a bridesmaid. Her husband would have a real job and talk nice and love her. After she met the right man she promised herself that she would make it happen, and she wanted it even more after her two children were born. Her husband Somchai, also street-raised, always had the same response when she told him of her matrimonial dreams: "Why not?" But that was as far as it went.
So it became yesterday's dream. Somchai was a good husband and a good father nonetheless and they were all pretty happy living in their Pattaya home.
But several weeks ago she showed up at our door, her daughter clinging to her, crying, and her son, barefoot, sniffling, nose running, with hiccups from crying so hard. Noi had whomped his bottom back at the bus station where he left his flip-flops, saying: "Five years old is too old to forget your flip-flops."
Published by Heavenlake Press. You can purchase Fr. Joe's new book here. A note from the publisher:
The Open Gate of Mercy is a collection of real-life stories of the poorest of the poor who share our City of Angels. We have seen many of them on Bangkok streets, but we often pass them by without taking any serious thought about who they are.
School-aged children trying to sell flower garlands we try to ignore when we are stuck in our car in a traffic jam. Old women and men hastily pushing their junk carts trying to quickly cross a busy road. Street vendors who sell us fruits, lunches, snacks, t- shirts, knick-knacks, etc. Who are they? Where do they come from? What are their families like? What happiness, sorrows, hopes or fears occupy them in their lives? The answers to these questions most of us are blissfully unaware.
In nearly 40 individual stories, Father tells us about these people that we see but never really know. The stories Father Joes recounts also tell us about their families and their community, and others like them whom we ordinarily never have any chance to meet. Each story stretches our worldview and transports us to a universe where we witness the daily lives of slum residents. Father Joe guides us on a journey through the heart of a community that he’s devoted most of his life in serving. Always with love and respect, he shows us that in spite of a life devoid of privilege, everyone possesses an inner dignity.
About the author
Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R., has ministered to the poor in Bangkok’s slums for over 40 years. As the Parish Priest of the Catholic community, he has lived alongside the poor residents around the city’s main slaughterhouse in Klong Toey slums—which is how he became known as “The Slaughterhouse Priest.”
Fr. Joe co-founded the Human Development Foundation - Mercy Centre, a community-based organization dedicated to strengthening the poorest slum communities of all religions and protecting and educating their most vulnerable children.