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.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Years ago now, maybe 11, his Granny died just after a terrible slum fire. That horrible night, teenager Gee carried Granny out of their shack and watched it burn.
They lost everything. Even Granny's antique betel nut chewing box. With no home, living "make-shift" on the street, Granny died only two days later. For roust-about young Gee, she was his only family.
He'd dropped out of school and grown up mostly alone in the slums and alleyways of Klong Toey. He spent some time with us here at the Mercy Centre, where he went to school for a while.
Drawing by Ali
In the last few weeks, as Thailand has edged closer and closer toward political and social chaos, we received many calls and e-mails from friends expressing their concern for our children. Thank you so much!
This week everything feels more hopeful. Protesters still occupy the shopping district, fortifying their perimeters with walls of gasoline-soaked tires and sharpened bamboo stakes. The army is still protecting the financial district. But now both sides are talking about withdrawing from their positions. We hope and pray for peace.
Whatever happens, we want all our friends to know that life goes on as always at our Mercy Centre, that we worry about our country and our future, but our focus every second of every day remains on the lives of poor, vulnerable children living on the streets and in slum shacks throughout Bangkok. Our street outreach teams continue to visit and protect children on their daily rounds. Moms and grandmoms still come to Mercy with family emergencies. They rhythms of life on the street and at Mercy remain the same. We are still a big family surrounded by neighbors we know and love.
Since January, 10 new children have joined our Mercy family. Eight of these children (7 boys and 1 girl – Pleam, Praem, Dton, Eh-eh, Than, Phan, Kee-nu, and Mint) lived many years in a local home for children with AIDS - The Kevorkian Home – which recently closed. Two other children, both girls – Ploy, age 5, and Pookie, age 13 - are from the streets.
Even though our Mercy Centre is located in the middle of Bangkok's largest, most densely populated slum community, our home often feels like it's far away from the city - as if we were living in a traditional Thai rural village. And this feeling always gets even stronger during Thai holidays. On April 9, we celebrated the Thai New Year - Songkran - at Mercy Center the same way we always do - as a village. The monks from our local temple and the elderly poor from 20 surrounding slum communities joined our staff and children in prayers, blessings, songs, a few old saucy dances, and a wonderful feast. To make sure everyone could attend, we held our Songkran festival a few days early, which, as it turned out, was fortunate. Mounting protests and a bloody confrontation on the following day forced the government and most residents to cancel or alter their festivities. Photo by Yoonki Kim