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.
Note: This article is about a community of sea gypsies in Ranong Province. We have been working together with these poor island villagers since the tsunami. Link to full text and photos here. Text only - below. Photo above by Chawalit Kumsatok.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday, May 13, Spectrum Section
By Craig Skehan
Village elder and midwife Liya Pramongkit, skin brown and furrowed as a walnut, spent her early life living as a nomad aboard handcrafted wooden boats called kabang. They were fashioned from giant rainforest logs; planking held together with vines.
The kabang symbolised the human form and elements of the boat were named after body parts such as the stomach and ribs. All around them were the spirits of the sea. Whole families once lived on kabang, often for months at a time. A thatched roof would provide only partial protection from the weather.
Ms Liya still sings a fittingly haunting Moken lullaby about a hungry child. So many Moken children have gone hungry, not least in recent years, as their parents' subsistence way of life has ebbed away.
There was the devastating 2004 tsunami, greater enforcement of the arbitrary maritime Myanmar "border" with Thailand and the commercial depletion of marine life. Many children have died from malnutrition and disease.
If there are sea spirits watching over the Moken, they must be weeping.
We wish to share with you a feature article about Fr. Joe and Mercy Centre recently published in Ireland’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. You can view the article here. Please be a little patient – it may take a minute to download.
Thank you all, as always, for your friendship and support.
Usanee and the Mercy Teams
For four decades, Father Joe has been a beacon of hope for some of Bangkok's poorest children. Now two filmmakers are hoping to document his inspiring life
By Annemarie EvansAn Irish-American priest talks to the camera as he sits at a table in the slums of Klong Toey, Bangkok, Thailand. It's September 2009. Father Joseph Maier describes how a hospital contacted him asking if he could look after a little girl who was blind and had Aids. She had been run over - by her parents.
"This is where you really wonder about the world," the then 69-year-old priest says. "You can understand warlords and pimps and addicts doing these horrible things. But the parents? Oh, boy! [They] used and abused this child and then tried to kill her. I'm not sure if the devil would compete on this level."
It's one of several disturbing scenes in a 15-minute film, which its two Australian filmmakers want to turn into a 90-minute documentary, called Father Joe and the Bangkok Slaughterhouse. The central character is Father Joe, a charismatic Redemptorist priest from the United States, who has been living in the Klong Toey slum since 1973. Shortly after he moved in, he set up the Human Development Foundation and its Mercy Centre, which now employs 330 people and runs 22 kindergartens, as well as a hospice, four orphanages and several other establishments, across Bangkok. "The Slaughterhouse" is a particularly poor area, set around the Klong Toey abattoir, where pigs are killed at night.
Loaning a lifeline
By Lim Li Min
A network of social workers in Klong Toey are replacing loan sharks with their hands-on help.Klong Toey, Thailand’s biggest urban slum, is comprised largely of rickety lean-tos. Some of these look onto fetid sewers; others have open doorways leading onto the area’s complicated tangle of sois. As children play in these densely populated streets, many a mother or a grandmother etches out a living through jobs such as selling noodles or mending clothes.
Malika Lertlumwan, a co-ordinator with the Women’s Group Credit Union (WGCU), an arm of the Human Development Foundation’s (HDF) Mercy Centre, knows every nook and cranny of these sois. She and other social workers have walked down these tiny lanes every day for the last few years. On her trips, Malika collects daily contributions from women who are paying back WGCU loans. Sometimes, she collects small sums that will go toward a family’s nest egg.
The social workers are not an unwelcome sight in the sois, as residents say the WGCU has provided a welcome alternative to the loan sharks that prey on their community. Since it was founded 12 years ago, the women’s group has helped fend off problems associated with the loan sharks, such as racketeering, intimidation, destruction of property and violence.
“People always know who they can go to if they need [quick] money,” says Malika. The Mercy Centre’s social workers estimate that more than 50 percent of Klong Toey’s families are in debt to loan sharks. Malika says some families have even fled the community to escape loan sharks, who may be living just a street or two away. Families who cannot pay their debts have had their valuables and property seized. Some are viciously attacked by large groups of gangsters.
This Wednesday the world will mark World Aids Day. Observed on the first of December each year since 1987, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Between 1981 and 2007, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and there an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, thousands of those are children. In Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey, sixty children are all HIV positive are cared for at the Mercy clinic, many of them are orphaned or abandoned.
Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Father Joseph Maier, Catholic priest at Mercy Clinic; Miss Chutima and Miss Watcharee, Mercy Clinic workers; Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer
Full of energy and play as most children anywhere.
But these are special children.
Each one is part of a community of 60 children at a clinic and orphanage of the Mercy Centre. Some are orphaned and some are not but abandoned by families but all are positive with the AIDS virus.
Father Joseph Maier, a Catholic priest who has spent over 30 years working in slum community says even as new medications extend the children's lives, challenges remain such as hopes of reunite children and families.
MAIER: The new meds are coming out. We hope our children and can live longer. And we want to get the Mum's and Dad's together who have AIDS and their children so they get to know each other. So this is the new task force - our children whose mums and dads and relatives have AIDS so they know about this and they will be AIDS friendly and tolerant and grown up. All of our AIDS kids go to school, to ordinary schools and it's just super.