If you happen to be driving or walking past our Mercy Centre, you may wish to stop by for a delicious cup of coffee. The students who attend our Janusz Korczak School for street children have set up a coffee stand in front of Mercy Centre, which they man before school and after lunch, offering freshly brewed cups of coffee for just 10 baht per cup. Ice coffee, mocha and espresso are the current best sellers. The coffee stand manager, Ms. Sherry (age 14, her birthday was yesterday!) says that their stand is making a little bit of money: “The rainy season isn’t helping business, but we are well situated to capture the 70 Rai neighborhood market.” Most importantly, the school children, all of them former or current street kids, are learning how run a small business.
Khru Lek, a gifted educator of sea gypsy children, was once addicted to drugs, but her mother's tough love helped her answer her true calling
By Father Joe Maier
Published by Bangkok Post, August 21, Spectrum Section
'Teacher! Miss teacher! Miss teacher! You be teacher!" That's what an old crazy woman who lived under the Three Soldiers Bridge used to shout at Lek. As early as she remembers, every time she walked by that bridge, the old lady would turn those words into a chant, "You be teacher! You hear me? You be teacher!”
And so she is today, but nowhere near the slaughterhouse or the Three Soldiers Bridge.
Now she rides a longtail boat 45 minutes each school day from the city of Ranong to the island of Koh Lao, where she teaches 60 sea gypsy kids in a rickety wooden shack that floods ankle-deep in the high tides. Sometimes the mums have to carry the kids on their backs, wading thigh deep in the water, from their stilt shacks to the rickety school.
Khru Lek is a gifted teacher. Brilliant. Even magical. And the sea gypsy children adore her. Her school children can say with pride, "We learn to count, to read, to write our own names, to dance, to sing, to tell stories, to play new games, to brush our teeth, to fight germs, to say nice words, to make friends."
When Khru Lek teaches the children how to count, they in turn teach her the numbers in their own Moken (ethnic sea gypsy) language.
Father Joe and Sister Maria would ask these questions to every slum neighbor they met every day, starting forty years ago when they first came to the Slaughterhouse in Klong Toey.
Some slum neighbors answered they were hungry, so Fr. Joe and Sister Maria gave them nutritious food with small sacks of rice. Others were sick, so Fr. Joe found a good doctor and started Bangkok’s first mobile medical clinic in the slums. To the question, “Are your children going to school?” nobody ever said “yes.”
Father Joe and Sister Maria opened Mercy’s first slum kindergarten in the Slaughterhouse in 1972 . It would be the first of dozens of Mercy Kindergartens to spring up beside bridges and railway tracks throughout the slums. Over 40,000 children have graduated from our Mercy schools!
A Role Model KindergartenLast month the Thai Ministry of Education named our Lock 6 Mercy Kindergarten a Role Model School for poor children, based on the quality of its teaching, student development, and administration. This award for excellence means that the Thai government will be using the lessons we’ve learned over the past 40 years in the operation of hundreds of government slum schools throughout Thailand.
Early this morning we celebrated Mother’s Day at Mercy Centre and gave honor to Her Majesty the Queen on her birthday and to all of our House Moms and all the moms who are a part of our Mercy Family.
Monks from our local temple, Wat Saphan, joined us at Mercy Centre. Since our local temple is also a “half-way” home and treatment centre for many poor adults addicted to drugs, we each gave gift bags of rice, canned foods, milk, and other essentials for the adults in their care. The Monks prayed and blessed our home and family. The schoolchildren from of our Flat 12 Kindergarten performed in dance. And everyone at Mercy Centre sang together for the love of our Queen, our mothers, and our children. It was another beautiful morning at Mercy Centre. (2011 Mother's Day Photo gallery here. Previous Mother's Day gallery here.
Last week marked the beginning of Khao Pangsa (known in English as Buddhist Lent), a period of spiritual renewal in the Buddhist calendar. To commemorate the teachings of Lord Buddha and pay respect to the Monks who make merit on our behalf, our house moms, teachers, street workers, social workers, children, and students representing our eight kindergartens in Klongtoey – over 800 men, women and children in all - paraded to Wat Saphan, our local temple, where we made merit and received blessings. The photo gallery tells the story, here. Photos by Alex Ashley. Related gallery here.
We've got the one family picture of baby Puk Pik. That's it - a picture that his dad somehow missed when trashing the rest. Taken eight years ago when he was a baby, maybe six months old, with his real mum holding him and dad standing by. Puk Pik is nine now, an orphan until a few weeks ago.
A slum-dressed lady who said she was his auntie brought him to us, then disappeared into the dawning day.
Now there's proof of his past. We found dad - hiding, avoiding us, whatever you want to call it - and dad had the picture.
Puk Pik's dad had kept the picture hidden almost nine years from his new wife. He knew she'd go into a rage because he promised she was the only one. His first and only. He told our social workers his new wife doesn't know about his HIV either.