Most people don’t go out of their way to visit our patch in the slums, known as “70 Rai,” between the port and a spaghetti bowl of highway on-and-off ramps.
Taxi drivers tend to refuse fares to 70 Rai. They say it’s not worth the risk.
It’s true, 70 Rai has earned its reputation as a nexus of drugs and crime the hard way – by having more than its fair share of both. But it’s also true that during the day and much of the night, Moms, Grandmas, and kids rule the streets. Photos by Yooni Kim. Visit the gallery here.
It’s a beautiful day for street kids when they can have as much fun as possible without any fears.
Last week over sixty kids of all ages joined in our end-of-year Street Kid Party at Mercy Centre.
The train station kids joined the party in large numbers, followed by the Lumpini Park kids and the kids who live under bridges (many from Rama III bridge in particular). The kids who sell garlands on street corners came with one of our social workers. Street kids joined us from as far away as Samut Prakan. And there were babies and toddlers, too – the offspring of teenage street couples – who arrived in tow with their young moms and dads.
Preparations for the party began earlier that same morning when we took the children to a large open air market, gave them five hundred baht each, and told them they could buy whatever clothes they wanted. No surprises here: almost every kid bought new blue jeans and t-shirts: the boys selected the coolest patterned t-shirts – mostly black, emblazoned with nonsensical English words – while the girls went for soft colors with flowers and hearts. The boys bought baseball caps; the girls, lipstick.
The kids felt confident, proud, ready to celebrate, and happy to have a day dedicated just for themselves in a safe place, where they could play hard without worries and feast on their favorite street food until they were full. (We hired street vendors to cook anything they wanted for free.) Nobody was going to arrest these kids at Mercy Centre. Nobody was going to hassle them. Nobody was going to pick on them or beat them up or take their money.
A few of the highlights:
First came warm greetings and New Year’s wishes from our social workers and representatives of other child welfare organizations as well as the Hualamphong train station police. All of us asked the children to call or visit us whenever they were in danger or needed our help in any way. We told them we would always be here to protect them on the streets and in our shelters.
Father Joe urged the kids to have as much fun as possible throughout the day and to prepare for a New Year filled with hope and joy. He pantomimed carrying a large sack of rocks, which represented the anger they may feel for their families, the police, and all the injustice in their lives. And he urged them to throw the sack away; to relieve themselves of the burden of their anger; and to embrace every day fresh and hopeful, with friends who care for them.
The kids understood and agreed to try.
Then came the games and festivities!
Kids were divided into teams and competed for glory in three-legged sack races, tug-of-war face-offs, balloon tosses, and other contests requiring camaraderie and companionship.
We are not sure which team won; we aren’t even sure if anyone kept count. But we are quite certain that each contestant came out a winner for the day.
But just to make sure… we had prize drawings that included gifts for every kid who joined in the party. Every child went home (“home” being a make-shift living space under a bridge, in an abandoned building or on the street) with a New Year gift.
We will continue looking out for our children on the streets and protecting them as best we can throughout the New Year. These children are always welcome to come live with us at Mercy and are always a part of our extended Mercy family. (More photos of the party - visit our gallery here.)
We are very pleased to announce that Carabao and Sek Loso will participate in a special “Light of Hope Sek Bao” charity concert in support of our HDF Mercy Centre. The concert will be held on Monday January 14th from 8.00pm onwards at the PAT stadium, Klong Toey.
The proceeds from tickets sales will help support the education programs of the HDF Mercy Centre.
The tickets are on sale for 500, 800, 1,000, and 1,500 THB.
If you can’t join the event but would like to participate in some way, you may still buy a ticket for a Mercy child.
For more information about the concert or to purchase a ticket, please contact 02-262-3456 or THAITICKETMAJOR.COM
Our Mercy Children don’t really worry about time and space. So yesterday and today and even tomorrow all become “the right now." If a story rings true to them, they “buy in.” Our kids are unerring, and I’m sure yours are also in spotting the Real from the Fake. They like the Christmas story. So here at Mercy, we celebrate Christmas every day but more especially on December 25th following our Sacred Traditions.
This year the children are planning their own Christmas pageant. First rule: no adults allowed. Then a serious game of rock/paper/scissors to decide who could play the lead roles of Joseph and Lady Mary and Baby Jesus and Donkey and the now-grown-up puppy dog given to Baby Jesus by the shepherd children.
But before that, this is how our Mother Maria re-told our Christmas story for 2012 in Klong Toey – Mercy Centre.
Work was often scarce in Nazareth town for Joseph the carpenter/stone mason. Sometimes he had to travel: make day trips to work in neighboring towns. If his work was near by, Joseph would take the boy Jesus along while leading their donkey carrying the work tools. Joseph teaching Young Jesus to become a Master Carpenter. Mary would prepare food for them as they left at dawn. "Be careful. Be Safe."
Our sacred books say that before their flight into Egypt, before Mary giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, before the Star arising in the East and the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem, coming to worship; bringing Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh --when the Angel Gabriel asked and Virgin Mary consented to be the Mother of Jesus -- the Mother of God, Gabriel also told Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth (who was of an age) was pregnant. Her son would be named John the Baptist. Virgin Mary decided to travel the 80 kms to visit – to help. Joseph, who was engaged to Lady Mary, said “It’s madness that you travel alone.” Then Joseph spoke to Donkey. It’s a five-day journey with robbers all along the way. Donkey, you have to carry her and you must be gentle. You must be alert at night also – make noise to warn us if bad men come around.” Joseph walked while Mary rode the donkey. They traveled from Nazareth town to the foot hills where Cousin Elizabeth lived.
Even now, eight years later, back home again, living off the main road by Nazareth, Mary and Joseph felt they could never ever be safe enough. They tried to lead a normal family life, but were always looking back over their shoulders, never quite sure if Herod’s soldiers knew. When they killed all those children in Bethlehem, trying to kill Jesus over eight years ago, did they know that Jesus had escaped that horrible night, that they had been warned by the Angel’s strong loud voice in a nightmare dream to Joseph? "Go! Now! Run!"
Mary wrapped Infant Baby Jesus against the cold winter night. Joseph asked his donkey, "Donkey, can I trust you? You must carry Virgin Mary and Infant Baby Jesus to Egypt. You must not falter, not stumble, no matter how rough the road might be.”
Yes, the memories of those eight years ago…. How would they survive? Virgin Mary had kept some of the gold given by the Magi. Would there be enough, or almost enough, until their arrival at the border of Egypt - avoiding robbers - to survive until Joseph found work? And memories of how Mary kept the Myrrh used to anoint the dead, with a premonition, somehow knowing as women do of the ominous days to come.
Fleeing into Egypt that very night, Joseph walking-running, Mary cradling the infant Baby Jesus in her arms, riding on Donkey. Traveling by back roads, trying to go unnoticed to avoid soldiers or strangers. That was eight years ago, but even today, this new Herod – son of the old Herod - would still kill them for sure if he knew Jesus were alive.
They’d settled down in Nazareth – their home before “the troubles” – a good place to raise a child. Off the main roads, one water well. A place no one noticed. And of course, the evenings were quiet, in those days before electricity, radio, T.V. mobile phones. And Jesus loved to ask Mary and Joseph to tell over and over the story of his birth.
And so it is in our Mercy House as Mother Maria tells our children the Christmas story. And about Donkey and the grown up puppy dog the Shepherd children gave to Jesus. It’s true, we can’t find much in the original Latin and Greek Scriptures but in telling these stories, legends have been passed on by tradition through the centuries, and thus are truer than true.
Our children ask Mother Maria which Bangkok City bus do they take from Klong Toey to visit Baby Jesus. And what is Jesus’ favorite food? And would Donkey be able to pull their three-wheel cart that they ride on for fun and give them a ride? And could they play with puppy dog now grown up? And they ask Mother Maria, how did the now-grown-up puppy dog go with them into Egypt? And then they answer their own question, that St Joseph carried him in his sack. Cuz when Baby Jesus took a nap, for sure puppy dog slept next to him.
They decided in their make believe world that they would charge money for a ride in the cart pulled by the donkey and give the money to Baby Jesus...since Jesus loves everyone; and they knew he would share the money, so they could buy candy.
We wish you all a wonderful Christmas.
Yesterday was a glorious day at our Mercy Centre. On the occasion of her birthday, HRH Princess Srirasmi visited our Mercy Centre to celebrate with our Mercy children, our kindergarten students, and all our house moms, house dads, teachers, and social workers. Our children renewed their vows to the Princess, promising to study hard and to be kind and generous. After receiving a luncheon feast from the Princess, our children also performed a classical Thai dance to the accompaniment of our Mercy kid orchestra. A spirit of joy filled the air.
Following her visit, HRH Princess Srirasmi gave honor to our poor neighbors in the 70 Rai neighborhood who had come to send their birthday wishes. The Princess spoke personally with our neighbors, asking about their circumstances, their families, and livelihoods; and wished everyone, young and old, great happiness.
Photos: Above, HRH Princess Srirasmi provides a birthday feast for our Mercy children and kindergarten students. Below, the Princess greets our poorest neighbors in the slums.
Shortly after the 2004 tsunami, we began serving a destitute ethnic Moken community living on Koh Lao, an island just off the coast of Ranong. When we first encountered this sea gypsy community, Fr. Joe notes, “They were literally starving to death. There was nothing to eat. One in five women died in childbirth. The children had no energy to run or play. They didn't even recognize basic foods such as bananas. There was no concept of how they should live on dry land.."
We wish to share an article written by Irish journalist Patrick Butler about his recent vist to Koh Lao. The Nov. 26 article, published in the Irish newspaper, The Daily Business Post, appears on this link.