They’ve never been outside of Thailand. Never held a passport. Never flown on a plane. And most certainly never eaten latkes or pierogies. But today ten Mercy boys are flying to Poland to compete in a three-day international soccer tournament to be held in Warsaw – with transport and housing expenses paid by tournament organizers. All teams, including, of course, our Mercy team, will be represented by children who live in group shelters. What a fantastic experience! Our children never thought they would ever see or do anything much beyond their neighborhood slum. Today they’re in Poland! We feel their excitement, and will be sharing their experience with you in the coming days. Photos above and below - our boys at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, ready to take off!
This month and next, we are sponsoring either our 14th or 15th (depending on who’s counting) Klong Toey Slaughterhouse Youth Soccer Tournament. Over 650 poor kids from all over Klong Toey are competing on the cement pitch beside the Klong Toey Slaughterhouse. Some teams have been practicing for months while others have never competed before. Every kid gets a chance to play. And every kid comes out a winner! (More details in Fr. Joe’s newsletter below.) The photos above and below were taken during the third week of competition. All photos by Diane Durongpisitkul. Please visit the photo gallery here.
Bursts of joy fill our days at Mercy, and we wish we could share each of these moments with our friends.
There's much to share with you right now.
First, our most special news: five children joined our Mercy family in just the past few weeks.
Two new Mercy children are orphaned brothers – Bia, age seven, and Ohm, age ten. After their parents died, they ended up on the street spending their days in front of a 7-11 convenience store – wisely, as they knew that was the best place to be safe and to beg, as the stores are open 24 hours a day. Weeks and months passed before a kind-hearted slum lady reported their plight to the child welfare/anti-trafficking ministry. The ministry placed them in a temporary shelter upcountry, and then sent Bia and Ohm to us, knowing here at Mercy, they are safe and loved.
Another boy, Aht, age 10, was also moved to Mercy from a temporary children’s shelter. His dad, a Thai national, had passed away, and his mom, a Cambodian national without documents, has no means to support her child for now.
A brother and sister have also joined us – Gahn, a boy age 4, and Bai Fern, a girl age 7. Their parents, dirt poor and itinerant, passed the children to the mom's parents. The grandparents tried their best, but now they are quite elderly, feeble, and unable to look after their grandchildren. Neither child had ever gone to school.
Bia, Ohm, Aht, Gahn, and Bai Fern aren’t alone any more. They aren’t begging for scraps to survive. They aren’t hungry. They aren’t scared. They won’t be trafficked. They’ve made new friends at Mercy and at school. They’re a bit behind their age peers at school (three of them attend our Janusz Korczak School for Street Children), but they don’t care. They’ll catch up. And for now, they’re happy. They get to be children again. (Photo: Top row - House Mom Mae Puerng, Ohm, and Bia; bottom row - Aht, Gahn and Bai Fern.)
Congratulations to our Mercy Graduates.
Our Miss Rose (above left), an orphan Mercy girl since age 12, received her high school diploma at the Ruamrudee International School graduation ceremony held this past Sunday. To make this happen, first Rose had to prove herself in Thai public school through Primary and Middle School. Then, since all classes at Ruamrudee International School are conducted in the English language, she had to teach herself English pretty much from scratch, with help and tutoring from our volunteers. Earning a full scholarship, Rose still struggled during her first classes at Ruamrudee but studied hard and succeeded. During her senior year, she became a mom and found time somewhere between raising her child and starting a new home to complete her classes. We are hugely proud of Rose!
Our Miss Maew (above right), a slum girl whose education we had sponsored for many years, completed an I.B. Degree from United World Colleges and then entered university in the US on full scholarship. This past May, Maew received her B.A. diploma (double major – International Development and Asian Studies, GPA – 3.3) from Clark University in Massachusetts. Her next goal, while she works here at Mercy, is a Master’s Degree in International Human Resources Management.
Kindergarten classes begin. Chaos reigns!
Our 23 Mercy Kindergartens opened for the new school year just a few weeks ago. (Introductory photo, top of page) Two new schools joined our Mercy roster, both in construction workers camp sites. Our total enrollment this year is 2,546.
We’ve seen the chaos of the first week of classes every year for the past 41 years, so we know what to expect and how to prepare: we arm our teachers with boxes of tissues as hundreds of school children, separated from their moms and grandmas for the very first time in their young lives, cry in terror as if their world has ended.
Then they get over it. By the second or third days, their cries turn into soft whimpers. By the end of the first week the school children feel confident that their moms will pick them up at the end of each school day. They have triumphed over their fears and now love going to school!
Starting around 8:30 every school day, we hear the children reciting their lessons – gorgeous renditions of the Thai and English ABCs, beautiful children’s songs, and ancient nursery rhymes reverberating throughout our Mercy Centre. These are just a few of the bursts of joy I mentioned earlier.
Slum Youth Soccer Tournament:
Over 650 poor kids are playing soccer and over fifty teams are competing every Saturday and Sunday for the next six weeks on the cement pitch beside the slaughterhouse.
This is our14th (or maybe our 15th, we’ve lost count) Mercy Centre Klong Toey Slaughterhouse Youth Soccer Tournament.
Slum dads and old slum hands come by to cheer and mentor their children. Local gangsters and young toughs hang out on the sidelines and keep the playgrounds safe (photo, above right). Our referees, who have been refereeing these tournaments for the past twenty years, don’t just blow their whistles. They teach and mentor the kids, too, as each game is played out.
And the kids imitate their favorite footballers. Every player is a winner!
An Honor Beyond Belief
What does it mean to work and stand together with the poor? A friend and fellow Redemptorist asked me this question and recorded my reply in an interview linked below. It’s not easy to put in words but I tried to tell the truth:
Thank you, as always, for your friendship and support.
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.
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.
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.
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