Name: Gradmother Ngiam
Occupation: Grandma Ngiam is recognized as one of the finest embroiderers and dressmakers in our “70 Rai” neighborhood. She has been creating intricately beautiful embroideries since a young child. Today she helps make traditional Thai clothing and hand-made bags and purses for our Women’s Group. We sell traditional Thai products made by Grandma Ngiam and other group members to local residents and wholesalers as a way to give our members extra income.
Grandma Ngiam says that she is too old to use a machine, and thus she stitches every piece by hand.
Family: She currently lives with a cousin here in our 70 Rai neighborhood. She has several children living in the provinces, especially in her home province of Saraburi.
Her Position in Our Women’s Group: Grandmom Ngiam is one of 687 Mercy Women’s Group Members. Her primary reason for joining is to save money at a favorable savings rate, and to take out loans, if necessary, at a low interest rate.
She comes to work at Mercy Centre whenever she wishes, and we are grateful because we always need her skills.
More About our Women’s Group: Our Women’s Group serves to financially empower poor women, primarily the elderly, who are the heads of large, extended families. When our members need to take out loans, they can come to us rather than local loan sharks, who charge usurious rates that are often impossible to pay back.
Reasons for Taking Out Loans: Emergencies; school fees for children and grandchildren; housing (fixing a leaking roof or installing a toilet), unforeseen monthly expenses (health problems, funerals, etc.); and paying back loans of family members, especially loans made by loan sharks. The average Women's Group loan is approximately $250.
Photo below: Malika, who manages our Women's Groups, displays a selection of items for sale. (More photos at Women's Group Gallery here.)
On September 8, 2011, The Thai Ministry of Social Development and Welfare, together with the Street Children’s Network of Bangkok, honored three Mercy social workers at an awards ceremony held at the Siam Society in Bangkok.
These social workers, whose stories we have outlined below, have demonstrated an exceptional level of caring in the protection of poor children. They represent everything we stand for, especially in their love for the poorest of the poor, and we are incredibly proud of them.
Khun Kittisuk Piyakul (Phong)– Mercy Social Worker and House Dad
When Kittisuk was just seven years old, his parents were desperate. Without money to care for or feed their son, they took Kittisuk to the Hualampong train station in Bangkok, told him to wait, and then left him alone in the hope that a kind adult would eventually find and protect him. Days passed. Then weeks and months. He became a “train station” street kid,” and he was living by begging for scraps and spare change when a Mercy social worker found him and persuaded Kittisuk to join our family.
After completing his secondary education and reaching young adulthood, Kittisuk stayed with our family at Mercy Centre and received training as a drug addiction counselor for street children. When we opened our home for boys on a plot of farmland near the new airport, Kittisuk became a House Dad and began studying agriculture. Today he helps our boys plant, grow and harvest our rice, fruit, and vegetable crops. Most importantly, he is a caring House Dad. He knows what our boys have gone through on the streets. They listen to him. They trust him. Kittisuk is their guide, mentor, uncle, and best friend.
Khun Watecharapol Changlech (Mos) – Mercy Hospice and Homecare Social Worker
Watecharapol, like Kittisuk, came to Mercy Centre by way of the streets. He was a teenage street kid, helpless, alone and far too gentle, meek, and sickly to survive for long. Adults and street children continuously took advantage of him until the day a Catholic Brother found Kittisuk sleeping in front of a seedy bar and guided him to Mercy Centre.
Here at Mercy Centre, Watecharpol has flourished. His gentle nature – nearly always a fatal weakness on the streets – is now his greatest strength. Today he tends to the patients in our AIDS hospice and visits patients in their homes. In everything he does for our patients, he is kind, soothing, reassuring, and caring. His gentleness now saves lives.
Khun Narisaraporn Asipong (Kru Nang) – Mercy Street Social Worker
The street children of Bangkok call Narisaraporn an angel, and they are surely not far from the truth. She looks after the most vulnerable children on the streets in angelic ways: she provides food and clothes for her children; takes them to doctors when they are ill; teaches them life-skills; enrolls them in schools; works with their families whenever possible; and enlists the support of temples, churches, mosques, and local government ministries. She will do whatever it takes to make her children safer and happier. It helps that she is fluent in Thai, Lao and Kmer, but what helps most is her beautiful heart.
Someone told her street children by the Rama III Bridge that she was to receive an award at the Siam Society. They banded together and came to the Siam Society ceremony, each with a single red rose to give honor to their beloved Narisaraporn – their mom, teacher, and friend for life.
Photos – Top to bottom: i) Mercy Staff with Bangkok Street Children, ii) Mercy House Dad, Kittisuk, receives award, iii) Watecharapol with Jutima Jongjet, the director of Mercy’s HIV/AIDS Programs, and iv) Narisaraporn with Executive Director Usanee Janngeon
Here are photos of the everyday lives of our Mercy Boys – ages 2 – 10 – studying, playing, fighting (just pretend), and roughhousing around their Mercy home as young boys do. All photos by Ben Engel. See full gallery here.
Do you remember, as a child, making artwork with pens, pencils, and crayons? Most of us, in our early childhood, would come home from school with drawings that we were proud to show our moms, Our moms, in turn, were at least equally proud to keep and display our art - usually in kitchens and especially on refrigerator doors.
But our Mercy children don’t have real moms and dads to come home to. And with 200 children in our care, we don’t have enough refrigerator doors to show off all their artwork.
We are justly proud of what our children create. Their art is beautiful, joyful, reaffirming, and full of love. Please think of our art gallery as the wall of a huge family kitchen with an enormous refrigerator door! You can view our children's new art gallery here. Gallery of children art classes here.
If you happen to be driving or walking past our Mercy Centre, you may wish to stop by for a delicious cup of coffee. The students who attend our Janusz Korczak School for street children have set up a coffee stand in front of Mercy Centre, which they man before school and after lunch, offering freshly brewed cups of coffee for just 10 baht per cup. Ice coffee, mocha and espresso are the current best sellers. The coffee stand manager, Ms. Sherry (age 14, her birthday was yesterday!) says that their stand is making a little bit of money: “The rainy season isn’t helping business, but we are well situated to capture the 70 Rai neighborhood market.” Most importantly, the school children, all of them former or current street kids, are learning how run a small business.
Khru Lek, a gifted educator of sea gypsy children, was once addicted to drugs, but her mother's tough love helped her answer her true calling
By Father Joe Maier
Published by Bangkok Post, August 21, Spectrum Section
'Teacher! Miss teacher! Miss teacher! You be teacher!" That's what an old crazy woman who lived under the Three Soldiers Bridge used to shout at Lek. As early as she remembers, every time she walked by that bridge, the old lady would turn those words into a chant, "You be teacher! You hear me? You be teacher!”
And so she is today, but nowhere near the slaughterhouse or the Three Soldiers Bridge.
Now she rides a longtail boat 45 minutes each school day from the city of Ranong to the island of Koh Lao, where she teaches 60 sea gypsy kids in a rickety wooden shack that floods ankle-deep in the high tides. Sometimes the mums have to carry the kids on their backs, wading thigh deep in the water, from their stilt shacks to the rickety school.
Khru Lek is a gifted teacher. Brilliant. Even magical. And the sea gypsy children adore her. Her school children can say with pride, "We learn to count, to read, to write our own names, to dance, to sing, to tell stories, to play new games, to brush our teeth, to fight germs, to say nice words, to make friends."
When Khru Lek teaches the children how to count, they in turn teach her the numbers in their own Moken (ethnic sea gypsy) language.
How are you today, my Brother? Sister, how is your family? Do you have enough to eat? Do you need medicine? Are your children going to school?
Father Joe and Sister Maria would ask these questions to every slum neighbor they met every day, starting forty years ago when they first came to the Slaughterhouse in Klong Toey.
Some slum neighbors answered they were hungry, so Fr. Joe and Sister Maria gave them nutritious food with small sacks of rice. Others were sick, so Fr. Joe found a good doctor and started Bangkok’s first mobile medical clinic in the slums. To the question, “Are your children going to school?” nobody ever said “yes.”
Father Joe and Sister Maria opened Mercy’s first slum kindergarten in the Slaughterhouse in 1972 . It would be the first of dozens of Mercy Kindergartens to spring up beside bridges and railway tracks throughout the slums. Over 40,000 children have graduated from our Mercy schools!
A Role Model KindergartenLast month the Thai Ministry of Education named our Lock 6 Mercy Kindergarten a Role Model School for poor children, based on the quality of its teaching, student development, and administration. This award for excellence means that the Thai government will be using the lessons we’ve learned over the past 40 years in the operation of hundreds of government slum schools throughout Thailand.
The street kids who live around the Rama I Bridge phoned our Street Teacher, Kru Nang, last week on Mother’s Day, and told her that she must visit them. “It is urgent, “ they said, “but we can’t tell you why. Just come right now. We need you.”
When Kru Nang arrived, the children presented her with garlands of flowers and told her that in their hearts, she was their mom. Tears flowed freely. Even strangers passing by were moved to tears by the beautiful ceremony. (Photo gallery here.)
Early this morning we celebrated Mother’s Day at Mercy Centre and gave honor to Her Majesty the Queen on her birthday and to all of our House Moms and all the moms who are a part of our Mercy Family.
Monks from our local temple, Wat Saphan, joined us at Mercy Centre. Since our local temple is also a “half-way” home and treatment centre for many poor adults addicted to drugs, we each gave gift bags of rice, canned foods, milk, and other essentials for the adults in their care. The Monks prayed and blessed our home and family. The schoolchildren from of our Flat 12 Kindergarten performed in dance. And everyone at Mercy Centre sang together for the love of our Queen, our mothers, and our children. It was another beautiful morning at Mercy Centre. (2011 Mother's Day Photo gallery here. Previous Mother's Day gallery here.