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
New Year in Thailand – traditionally – is 13 April. The fifth moon of the Lunar Calendar. So Blessings to each of you for the coming year.
May your rice harvest be abundant with enough to eat in the coming year for you and your children. May your ponds and water ways be abundant with fish. May your water buffalo calve healthy offspring. May your own children be strong and a joy and honor to you. And may your own elders bless you specially. Tomorrow is the day you pour Lustral water – perfumed and flowered – over their hands and bow at their feet thanking them and asking wisdom and courage for the coming year.
I write this from a “Bangkok under siege” We do not know what will happen.
Born 23 years ago out of a desire to keep her husband strong plus save a few precious baht, Auntie Muey's restaurant on two wheels is a Klong Toey legend
She started her fast-food career selling second breakfasts to "sweat labour" workers in the Klong Toey River Port from her bicycle. They'd walk the seven minutes from the riverside docks to a hole they'd knocked in the wall between the Port and the slum.
Auntie Muey was on the slum side of the wall. Safe from nasty Port Authority guards who would want free second breakfasts from her!
Easter Letter 2010 –
Holy Week – Easter – Meet you at the Jubilee - and a medium sized piece of Chocolate with only one bite taken out.
It’s Friday morning in Holy Week. The Day Jesus Died. We wear Black Clothing in sorrow, mourning and respect, leave our jobs for the day, if we can, eat simplest of food, take off our shoes to walk barefoot in solemn procession to show respect to the Holy Cross. Once again, we formally “Tell our Sacred Stories.” Re-live these Events to ourselves and our children. We, today in our turn, as our ancestors have done for 2,000 years.
They put on their robes. Donned their caps. And with great pomp, circumstance, plus a few giggles, 702 children celebrated their Graduation Day at Mercy Preschools throughout the slums this week. It was an especially joyous day for their families as moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunties, and grandmoms joined their children in the celebrations.
At the ceremony, Father Joe, in his doctoral robes, spoke to the children about the importance of staying in school, as he has on every graduation day since 1973. “If you’re hungry and have no shoes, what do you do?” he asked them.
by Father Joe Maier, C. Ss.R.
Our almost eight-year-old Klong Toey Miss Nong Ming made the Bangkok 10 o'clock night TV news a couple of nights ago. She shouldn't have though. In fact, it was "bad form".
True, the camera blurred her face, but, "darn it", for some dumb reason they blurted out her full name and showed the place where her family camped out under the tollway along with Miss Nong Ming playing with other street kids, recently off the street at a "family child protection centre".
This past Sunday 40 children from the Human Development Foundation’s Mercy Centre attended Mass at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok. It isn’t unusual for these former street children, who are raised in the Buddhist religion of their mothers and grandmothers, to join in a Christian ceremony. Their home at the Mercy Centre, founded by Father Joe, is a religious house; and the Mercy children are brought up to respect all religions.
But this was a particularly special ceremony for these poor slum children. Following Mass, Father Joe received a replica of the holy icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa on behalf of his children, and all slum children in Klong Toey, as a symbol of protection, joy, and love.
The holy icon was presented as a gift to the children from the Polish Embassy of Thailand, represented by First Counsellor, Dr. Zygmant Langer, and blessed by Msgr. Marek Zalewski, Deputy Head of Mission Apostolic Nunciature, before the children carried the icon from the Cathedral to its new home in Mercy Centre. (Please see our Photo Gallery.)
A glorious ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on January 15. The school children performed in song and dance. Community leaders gave thanks. A grandmother in a drunken state sang an ancient Thai song (over and over until we gently cajoled her to the sidelines). Sister Maria spoke with the children. Father Joe blessed the new school. It truly was a wonderful day for the children of Zone 9. (Please see photo gallery.) In attendance: the school children, their teachers, community leaders, and representatives of the school construction sponsors, which included Wings of Support (a charity comprised of KLM Airlines fight crew members), Recreational Bangkok Biking, The Netherlands Embassy, Franke (Thailand), B-Quik, NVT Dutch Club of Thailand, East West Seed Intl, and Asia Congress.