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
Just before Christmas, dozens of street kids gathered for a party, organized by Mercy Centre and fellow NGO members of the Bangkok Street Children Network. The party took place where the kids are most comfortable, beneath the Rama III Bridge on a sliver of park that many of these kids call home. Our street teachers organized games throughout the day – from three-legged races to co-ed soccer – and presented gifts to every child. Fr. Joe spoke and exhorted the children, as he always does, to be honest and to look after their brothers and sisters on the streets. Most importantly, he reminded them that whenever they need help, no matter what, "Call us. Drop by Mercy. Don't hesitate. We are always here for you." Photo gallery here.
Back when the world was much younger, but still quite a while after the Bible began, our ancestors celebrated Christmas – the Birth of Jesus – each year, when the darkness of winter stopped - and the light began to come back.
That glorious bit of history told through the centuries that their neighbors in Nazareth town told Joseph that they, the neighbors, distant cousins really, could register in Bethlehem for him and Mary, as they had to go to register themselves anyway. A tiny gift to the officials there would be sufficient. It was a kind-hearted gesture. That Joseph would not need fret and worry of having pregnant Mary make that several-days difficult journey to Bethlehem.
Joseph and Mary talked. Maybe it was a good idea. Maybe they didn’t have to travel after all. Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, "We both have to go ourselves, I believe and know from all the old stories and legends passed on through the centuries - prophecies really. I know and am convinced in my heart of hearts that the Messiah, my baby, must be born in Bethlehem. The angel did not tell us where the Child is to be born, but I believe and know we must make the trip. That is the right thing to do. No matter how difficult."
Thus Joseph with Pregnant Mary and the neighbors all traveled together - for safety sake - traveled by mule, by foot, by camel, south from Nazareth to Bethlehem town. A day’s walk outside of Jerusalem. And of course, they believed that their special Angels hid them from sight along the five day journey - kept them invisible from robbers and brigands.
In the old language: " Thus it came to pass” - Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a cove stable – offered to Mary and Joseph in desperation by an apologetic kindly inn keeper and his wife. His wife had told him sternly “How can we possibly turn away a Pregnant woman.” Old Belief is that there was truly no room available, and this was the best they could do. But that the inn keeper’s wife and her friends, plus the women coming with them from Nazareth tried to help Mary best as they could. Helping as women do, with the birth of a child.
Years later, Joseph and Mary re-told of those days: We didn’t know before hand. How could we know? But we were met by Angels singing in High Heavens, Shepherds, their wives and children. And three Wise Men, learned men whose advise was sought by the great of this world. They had traveled far, several months from the East to worship our new born Child. Offered gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh to Baby Jesus.
The Wise Men said they had long followed this unique Star, brighter than all the rest. A Star that the Sacred Books say: somehow "came down" to light up the cove stable where Jesus was born - to point the way for the Shepherds and later the Magi.
And the women brought food for Mary and Joseph, and clothing for her Infant Baby Jesus against the cold. The Shepherd children wanted to touch Mary’s new born Baby… and Mary let them… but ever so carefully. An old shepherd man, respected in those parts for his sage wisdom told them, “Keep the gold and the gifts of the Wise Men safely. There will be a time soon when you will need them – a time when you have nothing else. “
As Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, “we must go ourselves, no one can go in our place.” And the women cooking and sharing their food, helping to look after Mary and her new born child; and the men standing by, watching, protecting; the children playing; the Magi bring life-saving gifts. And again, thus it is, and thus it must be with each of us.
Later on, much more happened, but that’s for another day.
So it’s Christmas. “From theological mists, true then, true now becoming present reality.” We all, somehow, in our lives, do walk to Bethlehem and we “meet on the street corners of the world.”
fr. joe maier