Last week, five hundred and five slum children received their diplomas during the annual Mercy Preschool graduation ceremonies. Moms, dads, grandmoms, brothers, sisters, aunties, community leaders, and many of our local school sponsors joined in the celebration, a balance of traditional pomp and riotous fun. Fr. Joe, wearing his doctoral robes for the occasion, presented a diploma to each graduating student; and at the end of the ceremony, in a thunderous “call and response” speech, Fr. Joe encouraged the children in no uncertain terms to stay in school. “If your mom plays cards and your dad is drunk, what do you do?” he shouted out.
And the children shouted back, “Go to School!”
“If there’s no food in your belly and you are hungry, what do you do?”
“Go to school!”
“If it’s raining so hard, your shack is flooded, what do you do?”
“Go to school!”
Whatever is happening in their young lives, we want all poor children to understand, they must stay in school. And if their moms, dads, or guardians can’t provide basic school necessities, Fr. Joe also made it clear, “call on us, don’t hesitate, don’t let your children drop out.” (See the photo gallery.) Previous Graduation Ceremony here.)
By Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R., published in Bangkok Post, Spectrum, March 6, 2011
She still hangs on to that old photograph, faded and wrinkled after 25 years, of the cab of a long-haul truck. Dad's at the wheel and mum's snuggled beside him holding their baby, Bu Breo. Now 27 and with a 10-year-old son of her own, Ms Bu Breo phones her father often - says he's a gruff dad.
Before the troubles all those years ago, her mother rode with her father everywhere - riding shotgun. Mum said that her talking kept him from dozing off at the wheel. He didn't need ya ba to stay awake.
Recently, Bu Breo rode with her father again on a long-haul run. It was the first time for her son, Prab Pram. It was also the first time the boy had met his grandfather. Prab Pram boasts that he didn't get motion sickness and it was the first time he had been out of the "Slaughterhouse" Klong Toey slum for more than a few hours.
Bu Breo took him along because she was afraid she would go to prison, again, and her son - her only hope – would be abandoned, as she had been when her mother went to prison. She wanted him to know his grandpa, who would surely take care of him, and send him to the best school he could. He's in Grade 4 now, an honour student.
There is at least one wonderful advantage to life in a large family like ours.
After years of practice and study, our children have started their own Thai orchestra.
And for the past two years in particular their skills have become quite impressive. Professors from Mahidol College of Music have been providing professional instruction on a wide range of traditional instruments - from the Ranat (something like a zither) to the Khong Wong Yai (a large semi-circular Gong-chime played like a vibraphone). The results have been outstanding.
The Mercy Orchestra performed last week at the “Rhythm of Earth” World Music Festival in Bangkok to a very enthusiastic audience. (Photo gallery here.)