Way, way back, even before we opened our Mercy Centre, we had a dream for our children in the slums beside the slaughterhouse – a simple-but-profound dream shared by all the moms, dads, and community and religious leaders: we dreamed that we would send all our slaughterhouse children to school.
Sister Maria and I opened a school in a one-room shack beside an abandoned pigpen and began teaching the Catholic children how to read and write and recite their prayers.
Down the street, in a warren of alleyways, a preschool was also opened for the Buddhist children; and also the Imam opened a school in his home.
Nobody had any money back then. We asked for one baht per day from the parents. Nothing more. But even one baht was too much for many, who had nothing, and so they contributed in kind, as they were able: a grizzled piece of chicken, a small pouch of sticky rice; anything would do. And every mom, dad, grandparent and guardian wanted to contribute.
By Father Joe Maier
The "three grandmothers" is the most famous story in the old part of the slum known as the Klong Toey slaughterhouse. The kindergarten kids love the story and ask the teacher over and over to "tell us again" before their afternoon nap at school.
One of the teachers is the granddaughter of one of the notorious grandmothers. She’s the one who convinced Ms Joy’s mum to let her stay in school, and "was there" when Ms Joy needed to cut and sell her hair. But more on that later.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
The sacred tree is a mysterious thing to many, but not to a group of six- and seven-year-old orphans in Bangkok’s biggest slum
There’s a really big tree with roots all over the place and beautiful deep green leaves shaped like a Valentine’s Day heart. It's a nice tree, but it’s slightly unkempt. However, Auntie Gung and our children say it’s fine for a sacred tree to be unkempt. And this is a sacred tree with a sacred spirit, or angel. It's called a dhon pho tree in Thai and it’s in the back of the Klong Toey slum flats.
Auntie Gung visits the tree about once a week and brings some of our girls, if they want to go, and a regular visitor is Miss Sprite, whose mum died of TB and HIV/Aids a few months ago. Auntie Gung tells the children she believes she is protected by the spirit of the tree, as is Miss Sprite.
Auntie Gung had been with us for 10 years and remembers the day six-year-old Miss Sprite arrived after the cremation of her mum. The spirit knows that Miss Sprite’s mum died of TB-HIV/Aids because Auntie Gung told it so.
This year we started a trash bank for the school children attending our Klongtoey Nai and Romklao Mercy Preschools. It’s a beautiful concept that we hope to expand to all our Mercy kindergartens in the near future.
The program logistics are really quite simple: Every Friday morning, our students bring recyclable trash to school that they and their parents have collected in the previous week. The trash is weighed and valued accordingly, converted into savings, and deposited in each student’s savings pass book.
After an extended stay in a local children’s hospital, our darling, Nong Fon, has returned to Mercy. Her best friend at Mercy, Nong Peh, is overjoyed.
For those who don’t know them, Nong Peh and Nong Fon are blind, disabled girls who have continuous life-threatening health issues. They are also exceptionally kind and loving.
Nong Fon and Peh sleep, wake up, dine, nap, play, laugh, and cry together, and often communicate in made-up words in a their own private language.
When they are not conversing, they hold hands.
For the past year, doctors have been trying to control Nong Fon’s seizures, and in the process she’s been taken to and from a local children’s hospital many times. The nurses adore her. They say she’s an angel. So we know she’s is well taken care of when away from Mercy. (Maybe she’s the one who is taking care of her nurses.) But it’s sad for us when she’s not here at Mercy. And Nong Peh misses her terribly.
This week we welcomed our boys back from Warsaw, Poland where they competed in a very special football world cup.
The world cup competition was open exclusively to boys, like ours, who live in group homes. Teams from 29 countries were represented. Our boys, who have rarely ventured out of Klong Toey, competed against teams from Poland, Russia, Macedonia, Tunisia, Hungary and Belarus. How cool was that!!!
Getting kids who live in a shelter on a plane to Poland is not easy. Not one of our boys had ever been abroad or carried a passport. While some Mercy boys are orphans and legally under our guardianship, others have parents or legal guardians living far from Mercy Centre. A few boys were missing their birth certificates and identity cards. Fortunately we were able to retrieve essential documents, get all the necessary signatures, and even funding costs, which were provided by by the the tournament organizers and friends of Mercy.
“We want to thank our teachers for teaching us, loving us, being here for us, and caring about us even when we are being difficult. Thank you, my teachers for your unconditional love and trust,” said one teary-eyed student from our Janusz Korczak School for street children.
Every year in Thailand on the first Thursday in June, our students celebrate “Wan Wai Kru” or Teachers Appreciation Day. Today every Mercy School - comprising 23 kindergartens, five construction campsite schools and our Janusz Korczak School – held a “Wai Kru” ceremony where students presented flowers to their teachers in a show of gratitude. The teachers, in return, gave blessings to our students and wished them great academic accomplishments in the years ahead.
Even in a slum, a mother with nothing can still hear her daughter's desperate cry for help and come to the rescue.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
There was lots of screaming and shouting in the slaughterhouse neighbourhood. Miss Ploy was throwing a loud tantrum against her mum.
Just a quick glance at Miss Ploy walking by in the slum and you would know, this is a special kid.
She’s 14 years old, too skinny and obviously under-fed, with Raggedy Ann hair. She’s the proud owner of a grand total of one school uniform with no shoes. But that’s not the issue.
A congressional staff delegation, accompanied by members of Washington D.C.’s Royal Thai Embassy, visited our Mercy Centre yesterday to observe our programs and initiatives in the areas of child protection, anti-trafficking, and sustainable development. Highlights included a tour of our Janusz Korczak School for street children and our on-premise Mercy Kindergarten, where our students sang their favorite songs and were rewarded for their performance with ice cream on a stick – the perfect snack after their afternoon naps. Along the way, Fr. Joe and Mercy staff showed our guests why it is an honor and privilege to work together with the poor.
Last week I was walking by our Janusz Korczak School – our informal school for street children – when Kru Pranee, a teacher at Mercy Centre for 38 years, beckoned me inside.
“Father Joe, I’m really proud of one my students, and want you to see why.”
Kru Pranee called out to the student, “Neena, come here a moment, and please tell Father Joe about our Solar System.”
Young Ms. Neena, age 8, a Cambodian girl who attends our Janusz Korczak School because she lacks the documents to attend regular government school, looked a bit nervous and shy. She wasn’t used to being front-and-center stage. The youngest in her class of 32 Korczak students, she’d rarely been called upon to demonstrate her knowledge about anything.