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.
Over 60 Mercy children took off to the beach last week, where they belly-flopped into the waves and buried each other in sand castles.
This week our kids start the new school year refreshed, invigorated, and ready to tackle long division, multiplication tables, the dissection of frogs and whatever homework assignments come their way. Many thanks to the Qantas Cabin Crew for the beautiful holiday. Photo gallery here.
Tears, tears, and more tears, mixed with shouts of delight and plenty of laughter.
Gorgeous renditions of both the Thai and English alphabet...
beautiful old children's songs...
and ancient nursery rhymes.
The first day of the new school year has finally arrived!
Our 23 Mercy kindergartens opened yesterday to welcome almost 3,000 slum children – tomorrow’s scholars – ages three to seven years old, who are ready to gain their first lessons on a path to a lifetime love of learning.
Today was a special day at Mercy. Hundreds of the elderly poor in Klong Toey joined us for a Thai New Year luncheon feast and Songkran party. Monks from our local temple, Wat Saphan, chanted and gave blessings. Grandmas and grandpas danced to the old songs. And to make the day perfect, they taught their grandchildren the words, plus a few of the old dances and all the most important traditions. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful reminder how blessed we are at Mercy to have thousands of caring friends and kind neighbors. (More photos at our Songkran gallery here.)
Wishing our friends and family around the world a happy, safe New Year holiday and year full of joy!
The Mercy Teams
Published as "Easter spirit shines thorugh children's smiles in slum, " March 31, 2013, Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section
By Father Joe Maier
She crones that ancient children's lament, ''Auntie of the Moon'', over and over. Eight-year-old Miss Phae can't talk clearly – only babbles – and her tongue goes in all different directions. Yet her best friend, nine-year-old Miss Phon understands perfectly when Miss Phae sings, ''Please find me a kind granny for my little sister and a kind granny who loves me too.''
And crippled Momma Shrimp also understands, as do her gaggle of 17 kids (three, four, five and six year olds) whom she watches over. They all chant along, and it's the sound of angels, all singing about the beautiful Auntie Moon who finds a loving granny for abandoned children. Miss Phae improvises sometimes: ''Dear Auntie Moon: please send my little sister some tasty rice and a nice ring – and a chair for her to sit on, and a cosy bed for her to sleep on and even a pony or an elephant to ride.''
And we all believe Miss Phae's lament is inspired by the Easter Moon, when Jesus rose from the dead, and showed us that, in the end, the bad guys lose and the good guys win.
Maybe, just maybe, this eight-year-old babbling girl is an angel spirit of one of the ancients sent from heaven to us, like one of the saints who give up heaven for a while and come back to Earth for a short time to speak not of doom, but of joy and a better world tomorrow. If you've ever heard her, it's easy to believe that Miss Phae is an ancient angel spirit, a ''keeper of the song''.
At Easter time we journey back through the sacred living history of the world-changing events in the life of Jesus. We teach our children of our faith through stories and legends and by dramas, rituals and ceremonies.
This is Holy Week, and I’d like to share a few moments of mercy with our friends from around the world.
Our new children:
First, before everything else: five children joined our Mercy family this month. Our children always come first! We have never turned away a poor child in need and never will.
Nong Bhoey, age three, has lived in children’s shelters most of her young life. Her mom did not like her previous shelter and had her moved to Mercy because we are gentler and more caring. Not surprisingly, since Nong Bhoey is used to living in shelters, she is adjusting well. That is, she doesn’t feel lost or lonely the way most new Mercy kids do. In her first day, she examined and test-piloted every toy in our girls’ shelter and has rarely stopped playing since.
Nong Chew-wew (which loosely translates to “super peachy-keen”), a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, joined our Mercy family this past month because her mom, a trash-picker, simply could not care for her. At the end of every school day, when all the neighborhood mothers pick up their children at our Mercy Centre (Lock 6) kindergarten, Chew-wew is reminded that her mom is missing and cries rivers of tears.
When Nong Chew-wew cries, our older girls – her new big sisters – hug her and minister to her every need. Plus a few needs she doesn’t know she has - like dressing her up as a princess.
Our goal with Nong Chew-wew is to care for and educate her until her mom gets back on her feet. In the meantime, we count ourselves blessed to have her in our family.
Nong Sprite, age six, may never get to return to her parents. Her home situation was dangerous. Today she is going to school, making friends, and most important of all, she is healing.
Nong Pizza and Nong Peanut, sisters, ages 6 and 3, showed up on our doorstep this week with their father. Their mom recently died and their dad, who works as a day laborer at various construction sites, cannot take care of them right now. Both girls cried a lot their first day, the older one first, then the younger one because her big sister was crying; but in a day or two, like all our Mercy children, the sisters will get up each morning determined to have as much fun as possible… and succeed! (Photo above, our new little ones from left to right: Nong Boey, Nong Pizza, Nong Sprite, Nong Peanut, and Nong Chew-Wew.)
What a glorious day at Mercy Centre! Today 532 slum children received their diplomas at our annual Mercy kindergarten graduation ceremonies.
This is definitely not a typical graduation ceremony. It’s more beautiful for one thing - also more riotous and just plain more fun.
Of course, there are moments of solemnity and pomp. Children wear ceremonial robes and caps. And I don my doctoral robes and present diplomas to each child. When every child has a diploma in hand, I congratulate and exhort the children to stay in school. By the end of the ceremony, the children are cheering together, "We will stay in school!"
These young graduates can feel the importance of the day.
The ceremony is also filled with childhood innocence and joy, accentuated by festoons of colored balloons, garlands of flowers wrapped in cartoon characters (notably Angry Bird, whoever he is?), and lots of make-believe stuff.
Moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles – the whole family joins in the celebration. We want our school children to remember this day for life!
Thank you so much for making this day more beautiful.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Feb. 24, 2013, Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section
After descending into madness following an encounter with evil, Nung Ning is back and melting the wizened hearts of the Slaughterhouse grannies' corp with the sweet songs she learned from her mum
Somehow Nung Ning's music soothes the decades and the old pains of these elderly ladies and brings back the beautiful memories of yesteryear.
And they hold Nung Ning tight like her mum used to do, their breath strong with garlic and betel. And to Nung Ning it's the sweetest scent in the world because it reminds her of her mum
This savage/sweet tale is dedicated to Nung Ning, a roly-poly Slaughterhouse miss. Book learning was never her thing, and she only made it through the third grade. Later on, after troubles beat her up bad, she went through a ''loopy'' phase.But Nung Ning came through it all with flying colours and she's our Klong Toey sweetheart of the year – maybe the decade.
Some street kids call her “Teacher.” Others, especially the younger ones, call her “Mom.” To many kids who have known her for years, she takes on the honorific title of “Big Sister.”
Ms. Narisaraporn Asiphong, a long-time Mercy social worker, is a trusted friend to every street child she meets in her daily rounds of the Sanam Luang, Saphan Phut, and Rim Klong Lawt neighborhoods.
This past week she received further recognition and a new title, this time not among the kids themselves but rather among her peers, at the “Professor Pakorn Aungsusing Foundation” annual award ceremony. Her title for the award ceremony: “Best Street Social Worker in Action.”
Ms. Narisaporn will do everything within her reach to protect her street children and find them a safe haven. She reunites children with grandparents and family; finds her children safe day-jobs; enters them in schools, the monkhood, or wherever they may get a second chance at being children. She makes arrangements for their weddings, for the birth of their children, and sadly, all too often, for their funerals.
We know how remarkable Ms. Narisaporn really is; and we feel justly proud that others, both her children and professional peers, feel the same way.
On Mothers Day, the children in her care always bring her flowers.
More about Ms. Narisaporn and our social workers here.
Since we opened our first preschool forty-one years ago, we’ve built and operated dozens more. We build them in the poorest neighborhoods, where children have no access to a preschool education and no place to learn their Thai ABC’s or play with other children. Today, counting our Mokan “sea gypsy” school in Ranong, we operate 23 kindergartens for poor children, with a total enrollment over 2,500 students and an alumni population approaching 45,000.
Not one of our schools has ever stood alone like an island in the slums. Woven deep into the fabric of everyday life, our preschools are the liveliest spots in their neighborhoods – always at the very center of a small but teeming and pulsating universe. From early morning to late afternoon every school day, our children’s voices can be heard reverberating in song and cheer up and down the narrow pathways surrounding each kindergarten.
When the bell rings at the end of each school day, and all the moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas come to to pick up their children, our schools become the central meeting place in the slums, a place where people share neighborhood news and gossip. On weekends our schools hold wedding parties, holiday celebrations, and informal “town hall” discussions. Our social workers do much of their outreach from our kindergartens. During floods and emergencies, our preschools double as shelters.