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:
Published in the Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section, July 25, 2010
RIP Khun Vinai, their daddy, dead from booze at 47. Husband of their momma Ms Dhang, five years now in prison for drug possession and distribution.
If anyone doubts the revolutionary power of a strong education, they should meet our international scholarship students. All fourteen of our current scholarship students grew up in poverty; several lived for years as a part of our Mercy family. None had ever imagined studying past high school.
But because people believed in their potential, they were accepted into Baccalaureate programs at United World Colleges in Norway and Canada, and have continued their studies in American universities on academic scholarships.
During their summer breaks, if they are able to return to Bangkok, they join together to help us at our Mercy Centre. And once every summer, the students gather with their families for a special celebration of education. At this year’s gathering, held last Saturday, Ms. Jariya Yamkhamang , a Senior at Westminster College in Missouri, spoke for all our students about her education when she said, “The best gift in life is the gift of opportunity.”
We agree. And all our students prove the truth of Ms. Jariya’s statement every day.
Someone asked me to jot down some words on the celebration of my Ordination and First Mass - about being a "Senior Priest."
Forty Five years ago - counting from today - as a newly Ordained Catholic Priest, I said my First Mass and gave my first Priestly Blessings in a small farmtown-wooden Church in South Dakota in the United States.
It was and still is terribly important that I began my Official Priesthood there, saying my first Mass in that rural community where my Irish and German ancestors homesteaded after the American Civil War. Me, the son of a farmer and the son of a farmer's daughter.
Through these years of my priesthood, it seems that the great rules of Evangelization have become clearer.
To politely say, Good Morning - Good Evening to everyone I meet.
To say I am sorry - to apologize when I am wrong, always giving honor to all I meet along the way.
To say thank you even when it might not seem necessary.
I have been honored and blessed beyond belief in that my Religious Order, the Redemptorists, sent me to Thailand and then Laos, and then, 37 years ago, back to Bangkok to the Slaughter House in the slums, to be Parish Priest for our Catholics who butcher the pigs - where I have been accepted as a true family member and a real part of this beautiful slum community.
My and your stories are not yet finished - the last words have not yet been written and the final scenes are still open-ended. A song writer said: "Been doing some Hard Traveling down the Road" and yes, the future is a mystery, but there is hope. There is joy.
Prayers - fr joe
Mercy Comes to a Slum
For three decades, Father Joe Maier has made it his mission to take in the throwaway youths of Bangkok's largest ghetto.
Los Angeles Times - The World | COLUMN ONE
October 02, 2006|John M. Glionna, Times Staff Writer
BANGKOK, Thailand — Like a proud parent, Father Joe Maier dotes on his children -- such as the young beggar boy whose dad got him high on paint thinner and gave him broken bottles to cut his arms so he'd look more pathetic to passing motorists.
And the sexually abused triplets -- the girls' mother was dying of AIDS, their father in jail, their grandfather a drunk. Maier paid the old man two cases of whiskey to rescue the trio.
Now the ruddy-faced 66-year-old Roman Catholic priest smiles at a girl laboring over math homework, her oval face strained in concentration. He recently bought the solemn 16-year-old from her drug-addled mother, who needed cash for gambling debts. He paid 1,000 baht, or about $26.
Here in Klong Toey our children at Mercy Centre played “make-up games” in the streets as did the children behind the barricades, but children do that everywhere. We remain unscathed physically. Emotionally the wounds and scars run raw and deep, and we pray for peace, justice, and the meekness of wisdom.
A founding member and current advisor of our HIV/AIDS homecare and outreach teams, Khun Apiwat Gwangkaew was recently named President of the national Thai Network + (People Living with AIDS).
The Thai Network + is a nationwide organization comprising hundreds of local and regional groups advocating for the rights of PLWA. The Network creates national platforms, based on the voices of those living with AIDS, on issues ranging from national drug licensing and universal drug access to grassroots education and outreach. Apiwat first came to Mercy as a hospice patient and has a remarkable story to tell. In his own words:
"When I was a child, my parents could not take care of me. I was placed with a foster family. The foster family did love me but I missed the warmth that comes from my own family.