The School: Hong Rien Kong Nuu
At the end of the work day, when construction workers return to their campsite, a corrugated metal gate, marked simply with a "Camp 2" sign and list of safety regulations, represents a passage between two worlds. Luxury high-rise condominiums lining the street loom overhead. Down below, inside the gates, are the makeshift homes of the families of the workers who build the expensive condos, shopping malls and glitzy restaurants popular with Bangkok’s expatriates and wealthy Thais. The contrast in the daily lives of families living just a few hundred meters away from each other could not be starker.
Just past the campsite’s front gate, there’s a mud-track lane strewn with scattered toys that leads to a large sign. “Hong Rien Kong Nuu” it reads in Thai, or “My Classroom”. The school is housed in a single room constructed of wood planks, with low benches for the 18 students to sit side-by-side in rows. Tables are covered with worksheets, notebooks, crayons and erasers. Children ranging from ages three to twelve team-up with friends to ponder math problems, trace Thai letters, and draw pictures.
We found Galong – our oldest Mercy child, born with a kind of Downs’ Syndrome – on a street near the Pratunam market and invited him to live with us and join our Mercy family. That was thirty years ago; and he’s been living here as a big brother to our younger boys ever since.
He had no name when we found him, so we named him “Galong,” a type of bird without a nest. Since Galong didn’t have any documents or a known date of birth, we proclaimed Valentines Day as his birthday, appropriately, a day dedicated to love and joy.
This Valentine’s Day, we decided, would be Galong’s 50th birthday and held a huge celebration. (He could be a few years older or younger, we’re not exactly sure.) There was a beautiful cake with frosting on top done up in a portrait of Galong. Plus cupcakes, donuts, and Thai sweets. Our kindergarten kids joined in dance and song. Everybody sang a mighty chorus of Happy Birthday
Happy Galong’s Day, everyone!
Happy New Year - the Year of the Monkey!
Our Thai Chinese neighbors and each of us wish you all "Xin Jia Yu Yi - Xin Ni Huad Xai” or “Happy New Year,” as we say in our local Chinese dialect, spoken here in the Klong Toey slums and throughout Bangkok.
All our children know the Blessing – it’s easy to say, if you practice a bit; especially for our kids when they receive the Ang Pau (the Red Envelope, containing their New Year’s Gifts). Which, true, they can immediately spend for candy, but we suggest (gently) to the children that they keep the money, so they will have money all year (as goes the ancient saying, and as Chinese grandmothers tell their children).
We hope every day of your New Year will be brilliant and beautiful. Yes, I imagine there will be a bit of sadness, as all of us might go through some unpleasant moments, but mostly joy.
The first rhythmic sounds started around 7:30 last Friday morning. Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Dum! Dum! Dum! Gradually the beat of drums, tom-toms, and tambourines grew louder and louder.
Ceilings shook, walls vibrated, furniture trembled.
There’s an unwritten law regarding the nature of five- and six-year-old kids: If you give them a drum or any percussive instrument and ask them to play, they will go wild. And they will not stop until their instruments break or are taken away.
And just to prove this beautiful natural law, our entire Mercy Centre reverberated from building to building, wall to wall, floor to ceiling with the sounds of Children’s Day.
Children’s Day in Thailand always falls on a Saturday, but we celebrated a day early to accommodate the 2,500 students attending our 23 weekday kindergartens.
Of course, every day is Children’s Day in a kindergarten, but it is especially so when there is something extra special to celebrate. And Boy! Oh Boy! Our students got into the spirit of the moment, starting with a magnificent parade down the streets of their slum communities.
Kids marched, kids danced, kids beat their drums, kids shook their tambourines, kids waved placards, kids shouted out “WE ARE CHILDREN AND WE LOVE BEING CHILDREN.” Our children would have been happy to march for miles and miles. They would have been happy to march all day and all night, and start again the next morning.
But there was more fun to be had back in the playgrounds beside their schools, maybe even more fun than they've yet experienced in their young lives. They were to engage in a monumental event. A contest of heroic proportions.
We divided all our students into two teams – the Orange and the Green – and let them duke it out in a rumble of games and contests of skill, ranging from three-legged races to tug-of-wars. The teams had their own cheerleaders and percussionists, who, with epic volume and energy, encouraged their classmates to victory. Moms and dads and grandmas and granddads cheered from the sidelines. Between events, their children sat on their laps.
By the end of the day, every child came home with a well-earned medal. Every kid was a winner!
This Children’s Day was the 43rd we’ve celebrated in our kindergartens. Some things - beautifully, blissfully, thankfully - never change. Children love beating on drums…and celebrating life.
Fr. Joe Maier
We wish to thank all our friends at Mercy Menorca (www.mercymenorca.org) for organizing a concert of classical music on our behalf. The concert brought in much needed funding for our Mercy programs! Thank you!
By Fr. Joe Maier
She didn’t have a home. Did once, but bolted when she was eleven, to save her own life. Ran like she’d never ran before. Hid under a wrecked car. Predator men are feral and dangerous to 11 year olds. And her own drug mum had allowed this predator into their shack. He had the drugs and money and hiv-aids. And he soon destroyed mum. She abandoned her eleven year old daughter: made her an orphan.
She grew up a slum street girl – tough and without a mum. Slept nightly on two chairs next to the old boxing ring under the expressway. There was a guard – old man - usually asleep, but never the less, still a guard, and she was safe. Her nick name was “Boxing Girl.” A nickname much too common for her beauty. She grew up. Gave birth to a son.
When we first met a poor ten-year-old girl named Oraya, we didn’t know she was exceptional. She didn’t appear much different from the countless bedraggled street kids we meet every day. Oraya came from a broken home, and ended up in the care of an Aunt, a street food vendor, who could not afford to keep her niece in school.
Oraya wanted nothing more than the chance to go to school, make friends, and play with other kids her age.
There’s nothing unusual about poor kids wanting to go to school. Pretty much all of them do.
We enrolled Oraya in our education sponsorship program so she could complete first grade, and hoped that, with tutoring and outreach at Mercy Centre, she would stay in school, maybe even thrive.
Please join us for a Gala Dinner
to celebrate the 88th birthday of
His Majesty The King of Thailand
Monday - December 7, 2015
Grand Hyatt Hotel
123 Collins Street
3 Course Dinner with beer, wines and soft drinks
Khun Ging Muenpair
Khun Dew The Star 5
Melbourne Jazz Ensemble with guest vocalists
Auctions - prizes include:
Two return tickets to Thailand with Thai Airways
Two return tickets to Thailand with Singapore Airlines
Two return tickets to Thailand with Jet Star
Tickets - $110 per person
Dr. Simon 0402 288 229
Khun Boston 0413 367 909
Khun Dum 0425 848 302
Khun Amy 0416 845 070
All profits to be donated to TIWA and the Human Development Foundation-Mercy Centre in Klong Toey, Bangkok
A poor five-year-old Cambodian girl named Panda says in perfect Thai: “This morning I studied English. Now I am solving multiplication problems. I love coming to school! My teacher, Kru Rat, teaches me new things every day."
Welcome to our special school for children living in the Sukhumvit Soi 24 construction workers camp. While their parents are working in nearby construction sites, these children attend our humble, one-room school, on-site in the workers camp. Most of these children are Cambodian and lack the Thai identity papers required to attend regular public schools.
They rarely leave the camp. But going to school opens up their eyes and takes them beyond their narrow universe. And it gives them the experience and joy of learning in a safe place where kids, no matter how poor or what their circumstance, can just be kids.
Their teacher, Kru Rat, has seen over one hundred children come and go during her three years at the school. She tells us, “My students are quick and clever learners. Like every child, they deserve the chance to go to school. Besides, living in a worker camp can be harsh and dangerous. When they can read, write, and understand the Thai language, they will be better able to look after and protect themselves.”
Currently we operate six construction camp schools throughout the city. Photos by Diane Durongpisitkul.