We have one hundred-and-thirty kindergarten teachers in our Mercy family who, on average, have taught at our schools over ten years. In this photo of six Mercy teachers, each teacher has taught in our Mercy Kindergartens for more than twenty years, except Kru Niphaphon, who is still young and just starting her career. (Please give her time.)
From the left:
Kru Wassana Jeawphuang– 23 years
Kru Ratchadaphon Ketcharan – 22 years
Kru Siriphon Leachaidee– 27 years
Kru Kanokphon Tewinram– 28 years
Kru Premchit Kramauamcharen– 32 years
Kru Niphaphon Phanket – 3 years
These six teachers were all raised in the Bangkok slums. They found their vocation at a very young age. Each one had a similar dream – to teach poor children how to read, write, count, fight germs, tell stories, say nice words, draw pretty pictures, sing old songs, dance their first dances, and play with friends. Two teachers in this photo are graduates of our own Mercy Kindergartens – Kru Kanokphon and Kru Niphaphon.
Last week we stole a few minutes of their time to ask a few questions
1) How many slum children have you taught to read and write?
The six teachers added up their individual numbers and replied, “over 5,000 children.”
2) How many bowls of rice have you served at lunchtime?
“Millions,” they said.
3) How many children’s tears have you wiped and dried on the first day of classes?
They decided the number was not infinite, but close: “Millions upon millions.”
4) How many giggles, laughs, and songs have you heard in your classrooms.
This time, they agreed almost in unison: “Over a billion!
5) And the hopes and dreams of your students? How many have come true?
More than a few. And that, they said, was the reason they love teaching.
Here are photos of their students learning, laughing, and dreaming, below and in our new gallery. All photos by Ian Taylor.
Her parents picked recyclable trash for a living, mostly plastic bottles and newspapers, near their shack in the slum by Bangkok’s port.
Wannit, age 5, tagged along, helping her parents as best she could.
But five-year-olds tend to stray, and Wannit would often sneak away from her parents to peak inside a new slum kindergarten. – the biggest shack she had ever seen, filled with children her own age singing, dancing, drawing, counting, and learning their Thai abc’s.
She tried to be secretive and discreet as best as she could, so nobody would catch her spying, not her parents or the teachers or any of the students who, she feared, might laugh at her.
A few times, she was seen by the teachers, but slipped away quickly. Then, one day while peaking in, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around. It was Sister Maria.
Wannit wanted to run away.
“What’s your name, child?”
“Nong Wannit, would you like to go to school?” Sister Maria asked.
That was the moment Kru Wannit’s destiny was set in motion.
Sister Maria and Fr. Joe visited Wannit’s parents in their shack to assess the family situation and formally ask the parents if their daughter could attend our kindergarten. Wannit’s parents, illiterate and destitute, joyfully agreed. Sister Maria also arranged that dry food and sacks of rice be given to the family every month as there was no food in the shack and no child can learn on an empty stomach. The one-baht-per-day school fee was also waived.
Wannit’s joy was beyond measure. She says, on the first day of class she was the happiest child in the whole world. And two years later, still overjoyed, she became a member of the first graduating class at our Lock 6 Mercy Preschool. That was in 1974.
We continued sponsoring Wannit’s education through primary and secondary school; and at age sixteen she began interning as a teacher at one of our kindergartens while taking night classes to complete her high school diploma.
Today Kru Wannit is a teacher at our Yenakart Preschool. She has been teaching in our kindergartens for 28 years and has no plans to retire soon.
That’s a photo of young Kru Wannit above, which was sent to us a few weeks back from our first foreign volunteer teacher, Ms. Suzanne Leonard. Kru Wannit was delighted when we presented the photo to her, telling us she has no photos of herself as a child.
We asked her how many slum kids she has taught to read and write and count.
“Over a thousand,” she said.
Photos above. Kru Wannit as a kindergarten student - photo by Suzanne Leonard 1974. Photos below: Kru Wannit with her kindergarten students - photo by Ian Taylor, 2012. Class photo by Suzanne Leonard, Lock 6 Kindergarten, 1974.
Today is a grand and glorious day. All our children’s dreams come true today: Graduation day for 500 of our kindergarten children. Graduating from kindergarten 3 into the first grade into the normal Thai Government school system. We gather all the ‘graduates’ – dress them in “Graduation Robes” and make this the most memorable day of their lives thus far!!!! And me, I dress in my Ph D Robes - which are ‘savagely awesome’ (to quote Gung Fu Panda #2) - and formally give each child a graduation diploma – signed by me and the local Government head man. All their parents are here and proud as only Klong Toey folks can be proud!!!
In our 40 plus years, counting today and tomorrow’s ceremonies, we have hit the 50,000 mark!!!! That’s right !!! Fifty Thousand children have gone through our slum school system. That “blows me away.” What an honor and privilege to teach slum kids, who without this early schooling would be crippled for life –crrippled meaning. a pretty much illiterate future and sure poverty. We’ve changed all that/ Actually, not us, the children themselves have done it!!!
So today, before all the ceremonies begin – I wanted to share this with you all, and thank you with all my heart – my deepest gratitude for making all of this possible. You, our Mercy Family, are simply stupendous – beyond belief in your goodness to our 50,000 children throughout over 40 years.
Please continue to help – wouldn’t it be fabulous that you help child 50,001!!!!!
Must go … they are calling me “do my bit” - to tell the children: GO TO SCHOOL GO TO SCHOOL AND THAT THEY ARE “MERCY GRADUATES.’
Because... what happens today…. is life changing and has to last for a life time.
Prayers Respectfully Fr. Joe
Photos above and below from today's graduation ceremony. Photo gallery here.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R. Published in Bangkok Post, Spectrum, Feb. 19, 2012
Mother Gung says her own mother used to tell her, "Daughter, you were born just after sunset in the Year of the Tiger _ that time of day when Mother Tiger is hungry and going out to look for food for her babies. Sometimes you find food, sometimes you don't. There will be tough times."
And her mum was right, as mothers usually are.
This past month Mother Gung was in the afternoon fresh market, pushing the cart carrying her mob of four (her tiger cubs, as she calls them), warning them not to stray from the cart and run around, as three-year-old kids like to do. Mother Gung was on a mission to buy red chillies, the hottest she could find.
In this same market was an old fortune-teller, down on his luck - not begging, of course, as fortune-tellers consider doing so below their station - but desperately looking for folks who might want their fortunes told. He told Mother Gung he would "take a reading" from an old tree near the market, a tree well known for giving winning lottery numbers, but also known for being quite moody and at times arbitrary, meaning it also gives non-winning numbers.
It’s early afternoon as I write you – a day much like any other day at Mercy.
Our kids are all in school. Our patients are gossiping and laughing in the garden behind our hospice. Members of our slum women’s credit union come and go, depositing ten or twenty baht in their savings accounts and sharing news of their family with our social workers.
It’s sometimes difficult to put a precise measure on what happens here day-to-day. There are so many moments that don’t fall neatly into a statistic.
But the statistics we keep at Mercy Centre are meaningful, and I wish to share a few of them with you on this beautiful day:
2011 Statistics – The Scope of Mercy Outreach:
Children Receiving Assistance:
Mercy Centre Children: 237
Kindergarten Students 2,493
Education Sponsorships/Bangkok 621
Education Sponsorships/Sea Gypsies 387
Legal Aid Cases 1,177
Janusz Korcak School Students 32
Koh Lao students 50
HIV/AIDS Homecare 59
International College Students 12
AIDS Education and Outreach 1,505
Obtaining Birth/Identify Documents 125
Street children we protect daily 221
Adults and Families Receiving Assistance:
Credit Union Members 802
Hospice patients 123
HIV/AIDS Homecare Patients 365
AIDS Outreach at Government Hospitals 3,534
Koah Lao Sea Gypsy Project/Families 268
Janusz Korczak School/Adult Students 73
Elderly and indigent 103
New Homes and Repairs 13
One more statistic (I’ve saved the best for last): Twenty-four Mercy children were able to return home last year to live with their families.
From the first day a child joins our Mercy family, we begin to look for the child’s real family and explore ways to bring the child home.
Sometimes it takes years to reunite a family with a Mercy child, but we never give up. One 16-year-old Mercy boy named Boat thought he had no family at all. This week, for the first time, he met his Auntie and a half-sister. His story is so complicated it would take hundreds of pages to explain, but the most important point is this, as Boat himself explains: “I never thought I was anybody. I didn’t even have identity papers. Now I know who I am. I am somebody!”
Thank you, everyone, for your support. Please do visit our Mercy Centre. You are all a part of our Mercy family.
Usanee Janngeon and the Mercy Teams
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.
Our children celebrated Children’s Day this Saturday in perfect fashion – playing hard, eating ice cream and cake, swimming at local pools, roughhousing (pretending to be kung fu fighters), skipping rope, jumping and diving and cart-wheeling all around, and then, as the sun went down, finding even more ways to play harder and have even more fun. Please visit our gallery of Children’s Day photos here.
Tomorrow is our favorite day of the year in Thailand.
It’s Children’s Day!
Children’s Day is the one and only day of the year dedicated to the joy of being a kid.
While many of our own children lost their way (and their sense of childhood) before they came to Mercy Centre, we do everything we can to give them their childhood back. We try to make every day “Children’s Day.” And tomorrow we celebrate doubly-hard!
Thank you all for helping us care for our children. And tomorrow, if you see a bedraggled kid on the streets, begging for spare change or selling flowers – please stop and say hello, and help if you can.
Usanee, Fr. Joe, and all of us at Mercy