Beneath the luxury condominiums in Bangkok, often right beside the glitzy shopping malls, you will sometimes come across a guarded, gated camp of corrugated tin shacks. These camps are for the migrant workers, mostly from Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, who come to Thailand to build high rise towers for a minimum daily wage. We operate schools on these sites for the children living in the camps. These shacks and our schools are the children’s entire universe.
We try to give them a lifetime love of learning in a safe place where they can learn to read and write and make friends and play.
Here is a follow up notice about the flash fire that struck our neighborhood this past September. Before the fire was put out, seven homes were severely damaged; four homes were completely destroyed; fifty-one people were left homeless.
Our Mercy Centre community teams worked closely with the victims to ensure that those left homeless had a place to stay, rice to eat, clothes to wear and a plan to rebuild as quickly as possible.
Tons of debris were cleared away. Stakes were put in place to rebuild the homes and repair tattered lives. New homes were built. And last week we held a celebration. Father Joe along with our community teams visited each new home with gifts and blessings! We wish to thank all our friends who gave us and our neighbors much-needed support.
In the past 40 years, our foundation has built or repaired over 10,000 homes in Bangkok’s poorest communities.
A four-year-old breaks with tradition at her mother's cremation, but for a change no one really minds.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
(PLEASE NOTE: We are trying something different this time. You can read the complete text of the story as it appears in Bangkok Post below. Or listen to Fr. Joe tell the story in his own words without a typewriter here. Please enjoy both versions, thank you!)
The sorrow is intense. Maybe it’s the time of day. Maybe it’s the weather — but I don’t think these things matter much. She’s four and a few weeks and we just brought her “home”. In tears.
Even at four, she knows her mum won’t ever pick her up from school again like mum promised. We’d all gathered at the temple for the cremation. Miss Aye was playing outside the sala with her kindergarten chums, when the loud speaker guy announced, “time to begin the ceremonies."
All by herself, she left her friends and walked over and sat down on the bottom step of “the main” — the steps going up to the platform of the crematorium. She’d been told: you cannot join the actively in the cremation of your mum.
Even at four years of age plus some weeks, Miss Aye knew that. Everyone told her that she couldn’t go up the 12 stairs to where the body of her dead mother was. But she couldn’t understand all the fuss and bother, she didn’t quite digest what had happened to mum.
Our foundation's co-founder and director, Fr. Joe Maier, turned 75 last week. And while he might have preferred a low-key simple birthday, we found great cause to celebrate. Hundreds of Mercy staff, neighbors, friends, and, of course, all our Mercy children took part in the festivities. True to spirit, Fr. Joe made sure the celebration was really about our children. Ice cream was served from a giant bucket, and every kid who wanted a second or third cone was not denied. Top photo: Fr. Joe receives a gift of a red rose from Nong Fon, a blind Mercy girl, with co-founder Sister Maria beside her. Below, ice cream and dance.
Today we celebrated the Loy Krathong holiday in our 23 kindergartens. According to tradition, we float our Krathongs (small vessels that contain our worries, troubles, sins, etc.) down a river. But since no river flows through our kindergarten playgrounds, we used inflatable plastic pools. Our school children were happy, even without a river. To them it's all magic!
We are pleased to show you a new video about Mercy Centre and our new sister charity Mercy Centre Australia (www.mercycentreaustralia.org) produced by Getaway, Channel 9, Australia. As the video communicates so well, we welcome interested visitors to our Mercy Centre! Please watch it here.
Residents of Australia can see the video on the Getaway channel here.
We are pleased to announce that our foundation's co-founder, Fr. Joe Maier, was named one of three finalists for the annual Opus Prize, a prestigious annual award that “recognizes unsung heroes who, guided by faith and an entrepreneurial spirit, are conquering the world’s most persistent social problems.” (Please see details at www.opusprize.org.)
This year’s prize winner, announced last week at the ceremony in Spokane, Washington, was Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, a Catholic nun based in Queens, New York, who runs a foundation for incarcerated women and their children.
The Opus Prize is presented annually to faith-based humanitarians around the world. Each prize is awarded with the assistance of a Catholic university whose faculty and students are involved in the selection process.
There were 26 candidates for this year’s prize. Each organization considered must be entrepreneurial, sustainable and faith-based.
Fr. Joe’s award as a finalist brings honor to our foundation as it recognizes his four decades of work in our beloved Klong Toey slums and all his efforts in educating and protecting the very poorest children.
Photos below: Fr. Joe in early 1980s beside his shack in the slaughter house neighborhood and Fr. Joe this year presenting diplomas on Mercy Kindergarten Graduation Day. In the past 40 years, over 40,000 poor children have learned to read and write in our Mercy preschools. (B&W photos by Yoonki Kim; Slaughterhouse photo by James Coyne.)
Today we held a celebration in honor of all the men and women who help make our neighborhood in the slums safer, more beautiful, more joyous, and more welcoming. In attendance: all our community leaders and health workers, our women’s group and credit union members, senior Port Authority personnel, our partner NGOs, local fire brigades, police and army personnel, and hundreds of friends and neighbors in the slums. We presented certificates of honor to all our local heroes, danced, feasted, and most importantly, provided balloons galore and plenty of ice cream to the neighborhood children.
We are happy to report that friends in Australia have registered a charity on our behalf.
Residents of Australia who wish to give to our Mercy Centre may now make tax deductible contributions through our new Australian charity.
If you wish to make a donation to our Mercy Centre or sponsor a Mercy child, you may do so on their website at www.mercycentreaustralia.org.
You can learn more about our Mercy Centre and our new Mercy Centre charity in Australia this Saturday on "Getaway Australia" October 11, at 5:30pm.
By Shane Bunnag
Published in Nikkie Asian Review, Sept. 15, 2014,
Test and photos: http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/Thailand-s-little-loan-sharks-face-thinner-pickings
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.