It’s an awesome time of the year here in Thailand. Totally awesome.
Flowering trees are in full bloom with every color of the rainbow: so bright and delicate and beautiful, it’s breathtaking. And our kids are taking advantage of every minute of their summer holidays. For at least the next few weeks, they have no mandatory daily duties, no classes to attend, and no obligations apart from looking after themselves and behaving well. They simply get up each morning and try to figure out what they need to do to capture every potential moment of joy during their summer holidays.
The Thai New Year water festival was crazy fun. Imagine: Four full days of splish-splash. Someone gave us a plastic wading pool 24 inches deep and we filled it with the garden hose water. And our five- and six-year olds (especially the girls) were at the top of their splashing game. Best splashers in the whole slum. Stopping only to eat. No, they weren’t forgetting their past pains, but rather embracing the moment. Slum kids who have been hungry on the streets never forget. Even though here at Mercy, there are always double or triple portions, the kids never forget those days when they were hungry.
We wish our friends from around the world a Happy Thai New Year filled with blessings, peace, good health and an abundance of joy! Today we invited our elderly neighbors to Mercy Centre for a celebration of Songkran, the Thai New Year. Hundreds upon hundreds of dear, elderly friends joined in the festivities with our Mercy staff and children; and together we danced, feasted, received blessings from our local Monks, and then danced some more. Father Joe also gave blessings to our elderly attendees, gently pouring lustral water on their hands and wishing them a New Year filled with joy. As they do on every Songkran, our neighbors sang the old songs and showed our children the true meaning and joy of a traditional Songkran.
About two thousand years ago that raggedy handful of Jerusalem street kids saw it all happen. The bad guys ordered their foreign occupying forces to capture him and execute Blessed Mary’s Son. But they also made it look legal so these bad guys could get away with it and wouldn’t have to go to prison. Lots of people were shouting to get him up the hill for execution fast.
The kids whispered among themselves: “That guy carrying the cross with thorns stuck on his head, wearing the purple cloak is Jesus the Holy One." The scavenger dogs were barking, but strangely not barking at Jesus.
Last week we held our liveliest, happiest, and certainly most colorful celebration of the year. Our entire Mercy Centre was festooned with balloons, flowers, toys and stuffed animals. To say it was a joyous day would be an understatement. In fact, it was riotously crazy fun! It was Graduation Day for the children who attend our 23 preschools spread across Bangkok’s poorest communities. Amid glorious pomp and circumstance, over 500 poor children donned caps and gowns and received their diplomas; and in a rousing speech that brought all the children to their feet with fists in the air and smiles on their faces, Fr. Joe urged our young scholars, no matter what happens in the future, to stay in school! All photos by Ric Gazarian.
Born in a shack, half-blind and fearless, but there's still honour in a wasteland child.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
It’s a story that simply needs to be told. Sai Chon, the half-blind, no-fear, ex-rubbish dump kid. He’s moving up the social ladder. “Shack-born” in a city rubbish dump, where he spent his early years, he's now only a part-time street kid.
He’s done well in life so far. A sixth grade graduate of the Blind School, he can read and write braille, but not brilliantly. He admits to being a bit lazy in lessons, since he can still see partially out of his left eye.
Three months in detention for vagrancy and loitering in a public place (ie, begging) is unfair, he said. He told them he didn’t do anything wrong. But the uniforms wouldn’t listen. To them simply hanging around is vagrancy and that breaks the penal code. They said three months and that was that.
The Irish Ambassador to Thailand HE Brendan Rogers brought the Irish community of Bangkok together last week in an event that recognized and honored Father Joe’s 40 years of community service as co-founder of our Mercy Centre. It was a beautifully orchestrated informal celebration, (beautiful – both spiritually and musically) hosted by the Dubliner Bar in Bangkok.
In his speech, Ambassador Rogers spoke of Fr. Joe’s life-long commitment to protecting and educating the poorest, most marginalized Thai children. Pictured above, Fr. Joe, beside Ambassador Rogers, gives thanks to everyone in the community who has supported his foundation over the years. Photo below: an incredibly gifted ensemble of Irish musicians performed for the event – an ensemble that included Mick Moloney, Terry McBroom, Donie Carroll, and Brian Taheny.
Today at Mercy Centre we celebrated the birthday of Galong, our oldest Mercy boy. Born with a type of Downs' Syndrome and abandoned to the streets in his youth, he was found by our social workers over twenty years ago near the Pratunam Market, and has been living with us as an older brother to our younger boys ever since. When we found him, he had no given name, so we named him "Galong," a Thai bird without a nest. And he had no documentation, so we made Valentine's Day his birthday - because that is what he is about: absolute love and joy. We don't know his exact age, so we approximate. On Valentine's Day, Galong celebrates his 49th birthday. Happy Galong's Day, everyone!