People often ask us, what is your most basic need? What do your children always need? What do your poorest neighbors need?
We can answer these questions with one word: nourishment. To give you an idea what it’s like to go grocery shopping for Mercy Centre…
We serve around one million meals a year.
Breaking down this one million figure, we provide:
- Lunch for our 2,500 kindergarten students every school day;
- Breakfast and dinner every day for our 200 children, plus their house moms and house dads (three meals a day when schools are not in session);
- Nourishment and sustenance for our poorest neighbors when they are destitute and hungry;
- Monthly supplies of dry foods and sacks of rice for our AIDS home-based care patients; and
- Thousands upon thousands of meals to entire communities following slum fires, floods, and other disasters.
This is most important! Our children give thanks before every meal. They give thanks to the farmers who grow the food. They thank our cooks who prepare their meals. They also thank their house moms and house dads, and Fr. Joe and Sister Maria; and finally, most importantly, they thank God because we are a religious house (Buddhist, Muslim, and Catholic) and want our children to grow up with prayer in their hearts.
As we explain to our littlest ones, “Every grain of rice on your plate was grown to be eaten. If you leave rice on your plate, you are insulting the rice, which will have been planted, grown and harvested for nothing. Plus you will be insulting the farmer, the trucker, the cook, and everyone and everything that moves each grain of rice to your plate.”
Our children understand this argument, and as children they do not wish to insult even one grain of rice.
Our older boys feel even greater respect for their food as they grow much of it themselves.
Most of our older boys live on our farm near the new airport. Their house dad, who holds a university degree in agriculture, teaches them how to farm and brings in professors and speakers to instill the virtues of a self-sustaining life and environment.
Here’s a short list of the crops our boys plant, tend, and harvest before and after school every day: Chili and other Peppers, Eggplant, Bitter Cucumber, Papaya, Spinach, Lemon Grass, Cabbage, Holy Basil, Sweet Basil, Lime, Sponge Gourd, Ivy Gourd, Turmeric, Coriander, Squash, Indian Mulberry, Bananas, Butterfly Peas, Star Goosenberry, Hog Plum, Mango, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce, Jackfruit, Mimosa, Horseradish, Tamarind, Ginger, Mushrooms (many varieties), Bamboo Shoots, Long Beans, Peppermint, and last but hardly least, Rice. They also practice aquaculture, raising catfish and frogs in ponds on their farm.
Everything they grow they share with all our Mercy homes, and everything left over goes to market.
Back in Klong Toey, our Mercy girls are growing their own vegetables, too, far from arable land, right on top of the roof of our Mercy Centre. Our girls manage a hydroponic garden that is producing a gorgeous array of vegetables, including Red Coral, Red Oak, Rutterhead, Cross, Green Oak, and Finley.
Between our farm and hydroponic garden, we can shorten our weekly grocery list and lower our overall operating budget a little bit, but our expenses, especially for rice, our daily staple, are still astronomical. To serve one million meals a year, the rice we purchase costs 510,000 Baht (approx.. US $17,000).
Cooking oil, noodles, and many other items you’d never think of as expensive are also sky-high when factoring in one million meals.
For our friends who are looking for specific ways to help us, we welcome all support for the nourishment of our children, students, patients, and neighbors.
Thank you so much, as always, for all your kind words and support.
Fr. Wirach Amonpattana
Dear Everyone –
I write to you this Monday morning to thank you all for so many kind wishes on my 73rd birthday this past week on the Eve of All Saints (Halloween.) May we all be Blessed by the ever present silent Protection of all our Saints and Ancestors as we celebrate the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.
We’ve had some exciting and awesome changes here at Mercy as we boldly walk into our 41st year in the slums. What a privilege, all these years, to be accepted by our slum neighbors and all of you, our Mercy Family, really, for a lifetime and beyond.Our Ms. Usanee has stepped up the ladder as a member of our family to become our International Ambassador both here in Thailand and beyond the seas. Our new Parish Priest, Fr. Wirach, has firmly grasped the tiller as our new Executive Director, steering our good ship Mercy. He is eminently qualified as for the past 20 years he has been helping us whenever he could. He began with us as a seminarian with our Slaughter House Catholics and neighbors. Our slum neighbors accept him, as do the relevant local government agencies, and our staff are happy. Most important, our children think he’s great. He has many university degrees (literally a handful), which is not important, but helps. So the great worry of “who will succeed Fr. Joe” is answered and dealt with. What a relief!!!
Last week, twenty Bangkok slum children – the very poorest of the poor – took a long bus ride to Ranong province and then hopped a boat to Koh Lao to help a destitute island village of ethnic Mokens, the sea gypsies of Thailand.
It is quite unusual for these children to explore the world beyond their own slums. They know every crack in the pavement (if there is any pavement) near their own shacks, but nothing of museums, galleries, parks, or neighborhoods in the “nicer” parts of town.
These twenty children, ages sixteen to twenty, are exceptional and so we invited them to participate in an exceptional Leadership Training Camp. They are the brightest and most motivated of our “Sponsorship Kids,” the kids whose education we sponsor because their parents or guardians have no money to send them to school – no money for the most basic school fees, uniforms, books, stationery, lunch or transport.
For five days, our sponsorship kids engaged with the sea gypsy children in Koh Lao in a variety of activities. In the process, they learned about the value of helping others, the harmony of village life, and the difficulties of being “outsiders,” as the sea gypsies most definitely are, in the modern world.
Activities included plenty of hard labor, such as clearing a path from the seaside village to the hilltop water well, collecting tons of recyclable garbage along the shoreline, and lugging heavy construction materials to the site of our new kindergarten for the island children. But it also included loads of fun. Our Leadership Youth organized and refereed an incredibly high-spirited Sports Day for all the sea gypsy children of Koh Lao, a day filled with side-splitting laughter as the children competed in their first ever “water-balloon toss” and “three-legged race.”
By the time our slum children returned to Klong Toey, they knew a lot more about the ways of the world and how to help in ways that make a difference.
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.