What a glorious day!
Our Korczak School students had been preparing for the big event for over a week. They practiced their classical Thai song and dance performances. They created an art exhibit of their own original photography. They wrote speeches and memorized every word. They even baked cakes and cookies on the day before the event.
They were more than ready to celebrate.
The 10th Anniversary Celebration of our Janusz Korczak School, held last Thursday, turned out to be fabulously fun, and moving.
We opened our Janusz Korczak School in 2005, at first for several children who lived with us as family in our Mercy Centre – kids who simply could not fit into regular school.
Many Mercy kids had been living on the streets before they joined our family and missed out on an early education. Other Mercy kids missed out because they were too weak from AIDS or had other physical ailments. Some Mercy kids were developmentally slow. No government schools would take them in.
We started our Korczak School to make sure that every child, whatever his circumstances, has the chance to go to school, to learn to read and write, and to make friends just like other children.
By the second and third years of operation, we began taking in more street children from outside our Mercy Centre.
By the fourth and fifth years, more migrant children, mostly from Cambodia, began attending our Korczak School. These kids, ranging from ages seven to fifteen, lack the documents to allow them entry into regular government schools.
Today, about half of our 40 Korczak students are Cambodian or ethnic Rohingya from Burma.
We named the school after Janusz Korczak because he is a hero to all poor children. A Polish-Jewish doctor and humanitarian born in 1878, Korczak advocated for the universal rights of poor children long before there was a United Nations. He also operated an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. When the Nazis invaded Poland, his orphanage was removed to the Jewish Ghetto. Korczak could have escaped, but chose to remain with his children.
Korcak and all his children died in the Treblinca death camp in 1942.
In honor of their national hero, the ambassadors to both Israel and Poland joined in our celebration. After I gave a Catholic ceremonial blessing, H.E. Ambassador of Israel Simon Roded recited a prayer in Hebrew, followed by a blessing in Polish from H.E. Ambassador Zenon Kuchciak.
The good Doctor Korzack would have been proud to see his works honored by a school that opens up a world of opportunities to so many children in need.
Several Korczak school alumni performed at the celebration. I give you one example, Ms. Sunisa:
Ms. Sunisa joined our Mercy family at age twelve. Raised in a destitute Akha hill tribe village, she had never gone to school as a young child and could speak only her local hill tribe language. When we first met her, she was begging on the streets of Chiang Mai and in great danger of being sold and trafficked as a sex worker.
She entered our Janusz Korczak School and began her studies. After three years, we were able to place Sunisa in a local high school. Today she is completing a vocational college degree in accounting while working both as a House Mom for our younger boys and as an assistant in our accounting department – a long way away from her days as a child beggar. (Photo above, Ms. Sunisa performing classical dance at anniversary celebration.)
Here’s another story of a Janusz Korczak School alumna:
Ms. Tengmo was born in prison where her mom was serving time for selling methamphetamines. By the time our Korczak teachers met Tengmo at age eight, she was living in a shack under a nearby expressway and looking after her three younger siblings as best she was able – trying to make sure they had enough to eat, a place to sleep, and somewhere safe to play.
Our teachers invited Tengmo to join our Korczak school and enrolled her younger siblings in one of our Mercy Centre kindergartens. During the school year, the teachers observed her home situation and saw that she spent her after-school afternoons begging beside a pedestrian bridge to put bread on the table for her younger siblings. Our teachers often spoke with Tengmo’s mother and earned her trust. Together with our social workers and our legal aid center staff, our teachers eventually were able to persuade Tengmo’s mother to let our Mercy Centre look after her children. Today Tengmo is in Second Grade at a government school, still a bit behind her age peers but catching up fast! (Photo above, Tengmo with her sister and two brothers.)
Back to the celebration…
Did I mention that our children baked cakes and cookies for their guests? I did, but I wish to add, they were simply delicious! Our Korczak students also gave presents to their guests, demonstrated their vocational skills in barbering, cooking, and sewing, and proved to be most gracious hosts.
When you visit our Mercy Centre, please be sure to drop by our Korczak School. We want you to see this beautiful school and meet the teachers and see how much our students – who otherwise would have no place to learn or play – love going to school.
May our Korczak School live on and serve the poorest children for generations to come!
Photos above, Korczak children present gifts of their photographs to H.E. Ambassador Simon Roded (top) and H.E. Ambassador Zenon Kuchciak (bottom).