Father Joe recently presented the keynote address at the International Janusz Korczak Conference, held this August 5 - 9 in Tokyo, Japan. (Complete text of speech here.)
The bi-annual international conference is dedicated to the life and works of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish educator and pediatrician who introduced progressive orphanages to Poland and pioneered the legal rights of children everywhere. In 1942, when his Jewish orphanage was removed to the Warsaw Ghetto, Janusz Korczak refused an offer of help for his own safety. Months later Korczak and his children walked together in quiet dignity to the train bound for Treblinka, where they perished.
In his keynote address, Fr. Joe Maier presented a message from his own children – the 200 abandoned and orphaned children who live as family in Mercy Centre. When Fr. Joe told his children he would be speaking in Tokyo on the rights of children, they asked him to include the following statement:“Every child has an absolute right to protection from each and every adult they meet. All children, when they see any adult anywhere – on the street, in school, and especially at home - can look at that adult and know they will be protected. Loved. Looked after. No matter what. That they will not be harmed. They are safe.”
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.
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.