Friday, 03 October 2014 06:32

By Shane Bunnag

Published in Nikkie Asian Review, Sept. 15, 2014,
Test and photos:

BANGKOK -- Eight years ago, when Thailand was embroiled in an earlier bout of political strife and I was trying to make a documentary in Bangkok's main slum, Klongtoey, an avuncular Catholic priest who worked there told me something I've carried with me since: "Whatever is going to happen in Thailand happens first in the slum. We've got the best and the worst of the country right here."

I do not always agree with Father Joe Maier, the priest, but I admire him. He has dedicated his life to helping the neediest people, and going about it in a no-nonsense style. "I'm a fat, bald priest," he is fond of saying. "If I can't tell the truth, then who are you going to hear it from?" Originally from the U.S. state of Washington, he has been a resident of Klongtoey for decades. For much of this time, he lived in a hovel built over raw sewage and compacted garbage.

The Bangkok slums range from thin strips of lost road to beleaguered hamlets and, in the case of Klongtoey, entire shantytowns. They corrode the mottled veneer of the modern city like traces of a forgotten undercoat. Over 100,000 people live in Klongtoey alone. The slums are more than ghettos for the urban poor; they encapsulate the larger story of the marginalized among Thailand's 66.7 million people, and their floundering ways of life. They are populated by those who cannot survive in dignity like their ancestors -- as farmers, fishermen and day laborers -- and cannot find a place in a transforming society.


Thursday, 27 March 2014 06:06

by Charles McKenney
Published in Catalysta:

“Standing together with the poor” is the mission of the Human Development Foundation (HDF) Mercy Centre, a community outreach organization based in Bangkok’s largest slum district, Klong Toey. The community center/shelter founded by Catholic priest Father Joseph Maier, intimately known as Fr. Joe, and Sister Maria Chantavarodom (Sister Maria) 40 years ago welcomes abandoned children and teens, those affected with HIV, and older women who have trouble remaining employed. Its outreach also extends to the sea gypsies (situated throughout the surrounding islands of Thailand) who lack education, resources and the life skills to become self-sufficient.

1973 was the year that the HDF was started by its pioneers who saw a need in the community and strove to meet it. Fr. Joe's vision to establish the Mercy Centre commenced at the threshold of his 25-year tenure as the Catholic community Parish Priest in the slaughterhouse neighborhood of Klong Toey.


Thursday, 11 July 2013 05:38

Home-based Care Training - Mae Tao Clinic

Published July 10, The Guardian - Global Development Professsionals Network. Complete article and text here. Usanee Janngeon writes about the evolution of the Human Development Foundation-Mercy Centre's HIV/AIDS Program - from a "dumping ground for the dying" to offering all-inclusive home-based care. Photo above: Mercy Centre staff training Mae Tao clinic staff in community-based homecare.

For over 10 years, the Human Development Foundation – Mercy Centre's Aids hospice was the first, largest and only free Aids hospice in Bangkok, Thailand. At first, Mercy was known as a dumping ground for dying people. Then we changed our general policy and, apart from the truly indigent, only accepted patients with their relatives' involvement. Over the years as the treatments improved, our hospice became a place of hope for the future where people could recover and go back to the community and their family.

We learned that HIV is not about one person, it's about the whole family. We created three-way partnerships between our hospice staff, patients and their families. We asked the families to share in the hospice care of their family members, and in return, we provided counselling to the families and taught them home-care skills. The patients also agreed that they would contribute to the maintenance of the hospice as much as they were able to.

It often took several months of counselling, sometimes even years, to unite families and patients and bring them home. It was rarely easy. As our home-care programme expanded, we were able to close our hospice in 2012 and now all our Aids care is done in the community.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013 04:30


Kru Nang at home

Narisaraporn Asipong builds a sense of belonging for Saphan Phut street kids

This article, focusing on one of our street social workers, was published in the Bangkok Post, Life Section, May 21, 2013

by Napamon Roongwitoo

The first thing that greets an outsider who steps into the small patch of garden under Saphan Phut (Memorial Bridge) is a strong stench of urine. Male underwear is strewn carelessly on the ground, while a toddler plays by himself - not in a crib, but in a battered foam box. There is no roof. There is no toilet. There is no furniture except for a few floor mats.

This is what 60 lives call home, and it is the only home they know.

Narisaraporn Asipong, known affectionately by her students as Khru Nang, has spent the majority of her time with these "homeless kids" for 12 years. With a determination to make a difference to society, she left her home in Si Sa Ket and travelled to Bangkok to join the Mercy Center, working as a volunteer teacher for street children around Saphan Phut.


Thursday, 29 November 2012 18:52

Shortly after the 2004 tsunami, we began serving a destitute ethnic Moken community living on Koh Lao, an island just off the coast of Ranong. When we first encountered this sea gypsy community, Fr. Joe notes, “They were literally starving to death. There was nothing to eat. One in five women died in childbirth. The children had no energy to run or play. They didn't even recognize basic foods such as bananas. There was no concept of how they should live on dry land.."

We wish to share an article written by Irish journalist Patrick Butler about his recent vist to Koh Lao. The Nov. 26 article, published in the Irish newspaper, The Daily Business Post, appears on this link.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012 06:01

Moken Mother and Child

Dear Everyone,

This is the second recent news article about our work with the Moken – the ethnic Sea Gypsies – on Koh Lao, an island in Ranong Province. Both articles focus on the plight of these poor island villagers who have lost much of their past and are lost in the present.  We are doing for the Mokan what we have always done for the poorest of the poor – we are sending their children to school and taking care of the moms and grandmoms. In addition, because of their precarious legal status in Thailand, we are working in myriad ways with the entire village, together with the local provincial government, to help these poor seafarers gain recognition and status as permanent Thai residents. Please read the articles at your leisure (the earlier one is posted below), and help if you can. Many thanks, as always, for all your support.

Prayers, Fr. Joe

Moken Gypsies Find Themselves at Sea in the Modern WorldSydney Morning Herald and The Age, May 22, 2012 (For slide show with commentary from Fr. Joe, please visit here. Photo above by Jim Coyne.)

Article by Lindsay Murdoch

They live in stilted shacks on a mudflat above piles of oyster shells, broken glass and rubbish, their nomadic days on the seas of south-east Asia gone forever.

Liya Pramongkit, an elder and midwife of Thailand's largest group of Moken-speaking sea gypsies, saw her people on the small island of Koh Lao dying at the rate of one a week, many of them starving mothers and babies.

"We have lost our traditional way of life as our children no longer hear the stories that have been handed down by our ancestors," Liya says, her deeply lined face showing the hardship the Moken have suffered since they were forced to leave their seafaring lives, where the only things that mattered were the tides, the fish, the storms, the moon and the sea spirits.

"Before, when we lived and died on the sea, life was much better," she says.

More than three decades working in Bangkok's slums did not prepare Catholic priest Joe Maier for what he saw on Koh Lao when he made his first 30-minute boat ride here from the Thai fishing port of Ranong, in south-west Thailand, four years ago.

"The people were literally starving to death, trapped between the modern world and the Moken world," Father Maier says. "I have never seen people as poor.