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.
Last week marked the beginning of Khao Pangsa (known in English as Buddhist Lent), a period of spiritual renewal in the Buddhist calendar. To commemorate the teachings of Lord Buddha and pay respect to the Monks who make merit on our behalf, our house moms, teachers, street workers, social workers, children, and students representing our eight kindergartens in Klongtoey – over 800 men, women and children in all - paraded to Wat Saphan, our local temple, where we made merit and received blessings. The photo gallery tells the story, here. Photos by Alex Ashley. Related gallery here.
by Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Published, Bangkok Post Sunday Spectrum, July 10, 2011
We've got the one family picture of baby Puk Pik. That's it - a picture that his dad somehow missed when trashing the rest. Taken eight years ago when he was a baby, maybe six months old, with his real mum holding him and dad standing by. Puk Pik is nine now, an orphan until a few weeks ago.
A slum-dressed lady who said she was his auntie brought him to us, then disappeared into the dawning day.
Now there's proof of his past. We found dad - hiding, avoiding us, whatever you want to call it - and dad had the picture.
Puk Pik's dad had kept the picture hidden almost nine years from his new wife. He knew she'd go into a rage because he promised she was the only one. His first and only. He told our social workers his new wife doesn't know about his HIV either.
For four decades, Father Joe has been a beacon of hope for some of Bangkok's poorest children. Now two filmmakers are hoping to document his inspiring life
By Annemarie EvansAn Irish-American priest talks to the camera as he sits at a table in the slums of Klong Toey, Bangkok, Thailand. It's September 2009. Father Joseph Maier describes how a hospital contacted him asking if he could look after a little girl who was blind and had Aids. She had been run over - by her parents.
"This is where you really wonder about the world," the then 69-year-old priest says. "You can understand warlords and pimps and addicts doing these horrible things. But the parents? Oh, boy! [They] used and abused this child and then tried to kill her. I'm not sure if the devil would compete on this level."
It's one of several disturbing scenes in a 15-minute film, which its two Australian filmmakers want to turn into a 90-minute documentary, called Father Joe and the Bangkok Slaughterhouse. The central character is Father Joe, a charismatic Redemptorist priest from the United States, who has been living in the Klong Toey slum since 1973. Shortly after he moved in, he set up the Human Development Foundation and its Mercy Centre, which now employs 330 people and runs 22 kindergartens, as well as a hospice, four orphanages and several other establishments, across Bangkok. "The Slaughterhouse" is a particularly poor area, set around the Klong Toey abattoir, where pigs are killed at night.
Today we celebrated “Wai Kru” Day at our Mercy Centre – the day students throughout Thailand give thanks to their teachers. On this day, all students enrolled in our Korczak School for street children and representatives from ten of our local slum kindergartens invited their teachers to celebrate in a pageant of thanksgiving, music, dance, gift-giving, and blessings. (Please visit our Teachers' Day photo gallery. Previous Teacher Day galleries here, here and here.)
What happens to those girls who sell flowers on the streets and in the bars and restaurants in Bangkok? They come and they go. But where do they sleep? Who cares for them? What happens to them when they are too old to be flower girls?
Father Joe wrote a story about one such girl from his Parish in the Slaughterhouse neighborhood - a lady now in her thirties who sold flowers in the Pat Pong sex district beginning at age five. The article, written in 2004, is titled, "When Flower Girls Grow Up," and you can read it here.
Recently a documentary filmmaker, James Linwood, has returned to this story. We want to share with you a short clip (only about one minute long) that James put together about the flower girls of Bangkok. Fr. Joe narrates. You can watch it here.
Formal Launch at The Johnstons Music Festival
Concert Details: www.thejohnstonsmusicfestival.com
Some of our best friends in the world have recently started “The Irish Foundation for Mercy Centre,” a charity based in Dublin that will help raise awareness and increase support for our Mercy Centre in Bangkok.
The Irish chapter is the initiative of musician and Folklorist, Professor Mick Moloney of New York University. Mick Moloney, along with Paul Brady, Michael and Lucy Johnston are the surviving members of Irish Folk Group “The Johnstons,” one of Ireland’s most famous musical families. The other founding member Adrienne Johnston died in 1981. The remaining members will perform a reunion concert in Drogheda on Saturday June 25 at the first annual Johnstons Music Festival.
The June 25 performance will also serve as a celebration of the formal launch of “The Irish Foundation for the Mercy Centre.” Fr. Joe, our Executive Director Ms. Usanee, and Mercy colleagues will be attending the concerts and wish to invite all our friends throughout Ireland to join in the celebration for the best of music, mirth, and craic.
On May 31, 2011 the Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of the Embassy of Poland, Dr. Zygmunt Langer visited our Mercy Centre to present gifts to the children and teachers of our Janusz Korczak School. These gifts included several photographs of the life and work of Jansuz Korczak, a hero to the people of Poland and Israel, and to poor children everywhere.
Dr. Janusz Korczak was a Polish-Jewish educator, pediatrician, and orphanage director who introduced progressive orphanages in Poland, trained teachers in what is now called moral education, and pioneered the legal rights of children everywhere. In 1942, when his Jewish orphanage was removed to the Warsaw Ghetto, Korczak refused an offer of help for his own safety. Months later, he and his children walked together in quiet dignity to the train bound for Treblinka, where they perished.
Our school for street children is dedicated to the memory of Janusz Korczak and to the children in his care who perished during World War II.
The gift of photographs from the Embassy of Poland will become a permanent school exhibit. Photograph above: Korczak’s Orphanage Orchestra, Below: Minister Counsellor Dr. and Mrs. Langer, Fr. Joe, teachers and students. More photos here. Janusz Korczak School of SE Asia - Program Description.