This Wednesday the world will mark World Aids Day. Observed on the first of December each year since 1987, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Between 1981 and 2007, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and there an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, thousands of those are children. In Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey, sixty children are all HIV positive are cared for at the Mercy clinic, many of them are orphaned or abandoned.
Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Father Joseph Maier, Catholic priest at Mercy Clinic; Miss Chutima and Miss Watcharee, Mercy Clinic workers; Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer
Full of energy and play as most children anywhere.
But these are special children.
Each one is part of a community of 60 children at a clinic and orphanage of the Mercy Centre. Some are orphaned and some are not but abandoned by families but all are positive with the AIDS virus.
Father Joseph Maier, a Catholic priest who has spent over 30 years working in slum community says even as new medications extend the children's lives, challenges remain such as hopes of reunite children and families.
MAIER: The new meds are coming out. We hope our children and can live longer. And we want to get the Mum's and Dad's together who have AIDS and their children so they get to know each other. So this is the new task force - our children whose mums and dads and relatives have AIDS so they know about this and they will be AIDS friendly and tolerant and grown up. All of our AIDS kids go to school, to ordinary schools and it's just super.
Our Rimklongwatsaphan Kindergarten, one of eight preschools we operate in Klong Toey, is a modest wood-frame schoolhouse located right next to a canal, about 200 meters from the Slaughterhouse. It may not look like much, but in the past twenty years, over 1,000 slum children have graduated from this head-start Mercy Preschool in preparation for government primary schools. These are children who might never have gone to school or learned to read and write their names. On its 20th anniversary, we held a grand celebration. (Photo gallery here.)
The children, including several recent graduates, performed in song, dance, drums, horns, and even Hula-hoops.
I’d like to tell you a fantastic story about a bunch of street kids we took camping a few weeks ago.
It was glorious! Just try to imagine a collective burst of joy that shakes the skies and you will start to get an idea of the fun these children had for four days and nights. (Related photo gallery here.)
Normally these street children sleep in abandoned buildings, under bridges and viaducts, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, on a floor inside a friend or relative’s shack for a few days. They trust almost no one, live by their wits, and survive day by day in a world that is horrible and dangerous. Their fatality rate is comparable to soldiers in combat. They really do die young.
Although these kids trust few adults, our social workers were able to persuade forty street kids to join our Mercy staff for a holiday at Kao Yai National Park, where they played children’s games just like other children, took long hikes, exercised until they were exhausted, cooked their own meals, made friends, learned lessons about sharing and about trusting others, laughed more than you might think humanly possible, and, best of all, lived without fear for four full days.
On an evening some time ago as young Yor Saeng left her home in Issan to catch the overnight bus to Bangkok, a jing-jok (small lizard) made its "tak-tak" sound at her. Her Momma shuddered: "Girl, that creature is warning you. Make a 'tak-tak' sound back to thank the jing-jok and change your clothes so the naughty mischievous spirits won't recognise you."
But Yor Saeng only laughed. Her name means something like "the beauty of a temple with a grove of sacred trees under a Northeast pre-dawn sky". And she's a Star. No doubt about that. That's a short step below Heroine.
Stars are tough survivors with a beauty about them. Also warts, wrinkles thrown in, with mud from the rice fields between their toes.
She was the baby of the family: the ninth child. Attended the village school and worked the fields with Momma and the family. Daddy died when she was five. She was 12 that night she shrugged off the jing-jok's forewarning and climbed on the bus to Bangkok to live with an older sister and work in her noodle shop.
This last Saturday at Lumpini Park, friends of Mercy ran the first of 10 10-Kilometer runs on our foundation’s behalf as a part of the California Wow Corporate Wellness Program in celebration of their 10th Anniversary. More runs are taking place all week at California Wow tracks around Bangkok and in Chiang Mai. Please call California Wow for details if you would like to join in a run! Photos above and below show our Mercy Children with Fr. Joe, Usanee, House Moms, and California Wow’s Eric Levine at the Saturday run in Lumpini Park.
Royal Visit Gives Formal Recongition of HDF Status As Being Under Royal Patronage.
Bangkok, Sept. 2, 2010, HRH Princess Srirasmi, the Royal Patroness of the Human Development Foundation, visited our Mercy Centre in the port area of the Klong Toey community in recognition of the newly awarded status of the foundation. During the visit HRH unveiled a plaque signifying the foundation's new status.
HDF currently cares for 180 abandoned, abused and orphaned children who go to school and live as family in the foundation’s Mercy Centre. Fifty-seven of these children were born with HIV. The Foundation also runs 24 kindergartens, teaching and feeding almost 4,000 children day. Included in this are the Sea Gypsy Mogan Children in Koh Lao Island off the wharf of Ranong in mid-South Thailand. Plus a legal aid project representing 100 children a month in police stations and children’s court.
All our Mercy children prepared for the Royal Visit as only children can do such things – with a sense of magic, unbridled anticipation, and love – to greet HRH the Princess when she arrived and to perform traditional Thai songs and dance in the Princess' honor.
HRH with our Mercy kindergarten children. Top photo: HRH with Nong Peh, a blind Mercy child.
We want all our children to know where they are from – to have a strong sense of place and home outside of Mercy Centre - and to understand and love their real families.
Mercy kids go home whenever possible. Sometimes our children may join their families for just a weekend, short holiday or school break. Other times, whenever the home life is safe, nurturing, and loving, our children stay home, and we can help from a distance, just when needed.
Over the recent Mothers Day extended weekend, we held a three-day family workshop in Suphanburi Province, which brought together 46 Mercy kids, 14 moms, 2 dads, 16 aunties and grandmoms, several Mercy House Moms and House Dads, plus Ms. Wannee, our director of shelter programs, and Sister Maria. Every moment was dedicated to the strengthening of family bonds. And there were many joyous and tender moments.
(More photos at our Family Workshop gallery.)
When we first began working with the Mokan community on the island of Koh Lao two years ago, the villagers had never heard of “Mothers Day” or for that matter any other national holiday. They had no concept of a specific day, week, or month of the year because their culture bases the passing of time on the moon and the tides.
Once nomadic, living on the sea, they are now anchored on an island, impoverished and stateless. As we continue to help educate the sea gypsy children in this community and improve their health and welfare, we are also trying to introduce everyone in the village to the world they must live in now and forever in the future: a world with days, weeks, months – and holidays.
Many Koh Lao villagers, especially the elders, may never give much thought to our concept of a calendar, but Mothers Day is exceptional: it’s a day everyone believes in.
The villagers held their second annual Mothers Day Celebration this past week, where the children danced and performed for their moms and then knelt before them, expressing their respect and love. It is hard to understand exactly why this event hit such a huge emotional chord among this Mokan village. Everyone in the village cried in joy throughout the ceremony. Koh Lao Project details.
Father Joe recently presented the keynote address at the International Janusz Korczak Conference, held this August 5 - 9 in Tokyo, Japan. (Complete text of speech here.)
The bi-annual international conference is dedicated to the life and works of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish educator and pediatrician who introduced progressive orphanages to Poland and pioneered the legal rights of children everywhere. In 1942, when his Jewish orphanage was removed to the Warsaw Ghetto, Janusz Korczak refused an offer of help for his own safety. Months later Korczak and his children walked together in quiet dignity to the train bound for Treblinka, where they perished.
In his keynote address, Fr. Joe Maier presented a message from his own children – the 200 abandoned and orphaned children who live as family in Mercy Centre. When Fr. Joe told his children he would be speaking in Tokyo on the rights of children, they asked him to include the following statement:“Every child has an absolute right to protection from each and every adult they meet. All children, when they see any adult anywhere – on the street, in school, and especially at home - can look at that adult and know they will be protected. Loved. Looked after. No matter what. That they will not be harmed. They are safe.”
Keynote Address, International Korczak Conference, Aug. 6, 2010, Tokyo Japan
To be here today, of course I had to ask permission from all our children in our Janusz Korczak School in the Klong Toey slums of Bangkok, especially the ones in their early teens, both boys and girls; because in many ways, they are more fragile and vulnerable, and bruise more easily than the smallest and youngest. The younger ones hurt for the moment, the older ones hurt for a lifetime.
I come before you from Bangkok with a nearly impossible task.
To imagine that Dr. Janusz Korczak is sitting here in the front row, listening to what all of us are saying.
And of course, he is here in spirit.
I am here to give you a message from our children: the Janusz Korczak children of the Klong Toey slums of Bangkok.
And if my message rings true and clear – and you can hear the voices of our children - then I know Dr. Janusz approves, and more important, our children approve. And if our children approve, then the children of the whole world approve.
Our Children: (slide show)
These are our children, formerly street kids, used and abused thow-aways who live with us as family.
Our children have several messages:
First, they wish to say, “We the Janusz Korczak children of Klong Toey are okay. Not perfect. Not 100%, but doing okay – and we hope that you are okay.” And from the younger ones… they ask, “Do you know how to play ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ and how many times can you skip rope without missing a step?”
And so the children ask you, do your children do this?
I do not come bringing a magical formula for protecting children – only a message from our children. But maybe it is magic: