Last Friday night our beloved slum beside the slaughter house burned down. Nobody lite a match, it doesn’t happen that way. However, Seventy year old wooden shacks – seventy year old wiring – over-loaded circuits. Lights left on in an abandoned shack. It was horrible. An area the size of two city blocks completely devastated. Nothing was left standing.
But our kids – now fire victims - are okay. All of them. No one hurt. No one had to go to the hospital emergency room. Some scratches, burns and bruises, but nothing worse. There won’t be any scars, except the fear, the horror and lasting night mares of the children.
It was near midnight. The electricity went out, and the only light was from the flames. This fire ‘hurt’ me, Fr. Joe, more than most. This slum is my home; where I grew up as a young slaughter house priest.
Those over 45 years ago, we all started with nothing, really. Our first make-shift chapel under a bridge next to a railroad track, then in a wooden, tin roof slum house, finally the second floor above an illegal school. In those days, our slaughter house kids were too poor and too much laughed at because they lived literally above and beside the pig holding pens in the slaughter house. No school wanted them, and those who did, our kids dropped out in weeks because all the other kids bullied them, scorned them. So we began our own kindergarten in a non-used pig pen, - anything to ‘get started.’
Yes, that was years ago, but these memories flashed through my mind, as I stood there, watching the flames. And the original community, with and wooden shack homes haven’t changed that much.
Those kids, now adults, educated, send their own kids, even grandkids to our kindergarten, escaped with their lives and little more.
Forty five shacks/ homes, and seventy three families – over twenty children.
The house I ‘grew up in’ in the slums as a young priest – trashed…. The 2nd floor completely burned out, roof caved in, windows all broken.
Slum Fire is ugly. Not nice to anyone– doesn’t care: just burns and burns, till there is nothing left. And the wind –fickle: blows the fire this way and that. No favourites. Doesn’t really care how much you plead nor beg. After 3 hours, the wind switched back on itself, and the burning didn’t spread any further. But the damage was done; forty six wooden shacks and seventy six families.
I was there, a few steps away, in safety, holding a couple of six years old by the hand – to dry their tears. A boy was holding a charred statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which he and his sister had run back into the flames of their burning shack to rescue. No mum to stop them as she is in prison.
I kept telling the kids: Don’t worry; we can build a new house, and in the morning, buy you some new school clothes so you can go back to school on Monday. And then they started to console me, as I ‘choked up a bit.’ They said … Don’t worry, fr. Joe, we will take care of you.
And as you know we NEVER close our schools. Our slaughter house kindergarten of course has moved out from that un-used pig pen of years ago to another part of the slum - small child walking distance, but safe from the fire area. Two of the fire victim families with no place to stay, came and ‘set up camp.’ A couple days in the school.
Now, they are with relatives near-by.
Together, in partnership, with district office, local police, army and hospitals and the temple and the schools our community will bounce back, that’s what we do here in the slum. The slum might look weak and fragile from the outside, houses made of rotten wood and families poorly dressed. But we are stronger that some might think – we have (unfortunately) many years of experience with fires and accidents and tragedies – HOWEVER we always come back and we will this time too.
Dear everyone. Blessings for Chinese New Year and the whole year of the Rooster.
Xin Jia Yu Yi Xin Ni Huad Xai
The Soothsayers tell us, that these are very special days.
Beginning with today, Thursday. The day we are to have paid all our debts and give red/pink envelopes to all the children and younger members of our family. The money is to be fresh bills, and of an even number, 40 or 60 or 80 Baht, and yes, they can go and buy candy, but they are supposed to keep the money, so that they will have money to use all year long. That means, here at Mercy, me being the oldest, and being “Father Joe” to prepare envelopes for everyone.
Then tomorrow Friday, is the day to pay respect to our ancestors and to make merit at the temple, or in Church.
Then Saturday, is the day to relax. No work. To go and visit near-by relatives. To have a special meal, already prepared by the grandmothers and mothers for weeks already. The annual house cleaning should already have been done. In the kitchen, the rice cooker is to be sparkling clean, ready to cook new rice, and thus have rice to eat for the whole year.
And to wear red clothing – the color of joy, of happiness, or at least a red ribbon, but certainly not dark colors.
Here at Mercy during Holy Mass we tell the children that they cannot say any bad words these whole three days , otherwise the words will stick in our mouth all year, and come out in our conversations, even when we don’t want them to.
And lest I forget, we must have firecrackers. Absolutely necessary to make noise, and frighten the nasty spirits back into the old year where they are caught, and thus we can begin the New Year happy and joyful.
All of us here wish you a Joyful and Blessed New Year.
Prayers – Fr. Joe and our 150 Mercy children, and all of our 33 slum shack schools and camp site schools, and 3,500 kindergarten kids and the sea gypsy kids and everyone.
It is a New Year and Mercy Centre is thriving as always with children’s play and laughter at every corner. The weather this time of year is pleasant, not hot not cold, no flood and no harsh sun. However, in the South of Thailand it has not been like this. Over Christmas the Southern provinces have experienced an unusual bad monsoon and almost half of the country has been flooded resulting in over 30 deaths, broken train tracks, collapsed bridges and closed airports. People have lost their homes and farmers have lost their crops.
Our Mercy home in Ranong was also hit but thankfully nothing more severe than a flooded 1st floor and some broken furniture.
Others were not that lucky and on Wednesday during the annual staff meeting we all gave donations to be sent down to help those affected in the Southern provinces.
Children’s Day (Sports Day)
Saturday 14 January is the national Children’s Day in Thailand and all over Bangkok there will be fun events and activities for our Klong Toey kids to participate in. This day is all about enjoying life as the young and celebrating the new generation – and our Mercy children will be accompanied by the house parents and travel to as many fun events they can manage in a day :)
Today Friday 13 January the Thai schools arrange their yearly Sports Day and all of our Mercy schools engaged with amazing outfits, happy songs and great enthusiasm to show their athletic skills and most importantly strong team work. We even had an Olympic Flame!
For more great pictures and a video from this super fun day see our YouTube and Facebook
This year, 2017, it is 45 years since HDF Mercy Centre opened their first school doors and the first set of children’s feet were skipping of excitement and loads of energy to start learning writing and arithmetic’s; and grateful parents that finally had a place their children could be safe, fed and cared for while they worked.
50,000 Kindergarten graduates later HDF Mercy Centre will be hosting a series of events and activities throughout the year. To honor the ones who have supported us and made it possible to continue and expanding for the last 45 years; and also to invite new members of our extend family to join us and help us spread the word of the children and every partner we have in the shanty slums of Klong Toey and Bangkok. Please do join us to show the world who we are and most importantly how amazing our children are and that we will continue to work in partnership with the poorest of the poor for many more years to come – our job is far from done.
Stay tuned for more information of upcoming events!
Happy weekend to you all
We asked our slum kids for their version of our Christmas legend. To write us a song of Baby Jesus and Klong Toey.
Their own song also tells of the old proverb: Those in power write the history, and those who suffer write the songs.
Of course, our kids love the traditional account of Blessed Lady Mary & Joseph and Baby Jesus, who came to Bethlehem. Of Angels singing in High Heavens. The Star shinning in the East, guiding the three Wise Men and the Shepherds: the Birth of the Son of God.
Their song begins when Pregnant Lady Blessed Mary had to leave her home in Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem.
Why did she have to go? She just had to. Joseph had to go to follow government regulations to pay his family tax, and she had to /wanted to go with him.
So back to Klong Toey, our children pooled their lunch money for ‘instant noodles’ for pregnant Mary to eat along the way. Plus, some cookies which you can buy in the fresh market. Cheaper than the store.
As the three day journey to Bethlehem was certainly dangerous, the children didn’t know exactly what to do about that. But they decided to give Blessed Mary some money for her Sim card for her phone... in case she ran out, and maybe if Joseph needed to call for help – he could even our kids and they, for sure, would come to scare away the bad guys. And our kids would buy Joseph a whistle that sounds like a policeman’s whistle to blow also.
We are somber but joyful today. Somber because of the Passing of His Royal Highness, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Yet joyful because of his 70 years as Father of our Beloved Land. We miss him, and as one hears on the streets, the Thai expression goes:
Our Beloved dad has died and then they all continue: but don’t worry, we his children will look after the house and our home.
And that is what today is exactly about. We are looking after the house, even though there has been a death in the family. Life goes on.
- Right now the best way to show loyalty and to mourn is to pursue the King’s teachings and we in the shanty slums of Klong Toey will do exactly that.
Also joyful today because we are celebrating this wonder of life with three hundred & eighty elderly folks – mostly grannies who care for our school children. Officially it’s National Welfare Day here in Thailand and Klong Toey, and usually we would have a big party. Today we celebrated in honor of His Royal Highness – we are all wearing black (we wear black every day but today we wore an extra nice black shirt), we said a beautiful poem about our deepest respect for His tireless work. And that we will continue to honor his name by doing our best for the country, for the people – and we had 99 second of silence, in remembrance of Rama IX.
Our staff and 10 of “our” street kids handed out bags of rice, noodles, canned food, cooking oil and hygienic products to our glorious grannies. National Heroine day would be a better name. Where our grand ladies - wrinkled and grey. However, as the wonderful French expression goes - the BLOOM IS NOT OFF THE ROSE. Our grand ladies with their five & six year olds. Look after as best as they can; that the kids do their homework, that they shower in the morning and that they remember their backpacks when they are picked up in the afternoon. These lovely grand ladies do all this while the mums are working or missing and they are reasonably nice to the dads when/if they come around sometimes.
So yes, there is rice and cooking oil, but also a bit of candy for their grandchildren whom they care for – make a home for.
Our school here at Mercy Centre normally has 350 children. Today there are about 100 as it is October School break, and most of the children are with their older brothers and sisters, also out of school for a few days, or have traveled to the Provinces to be with relatives who work the rice fields. But we keep school open for the remaining 100 who have no other place to go during the day, except our school. So yes, we have school, but more games and sweets and some nice person just gave us enough teddy bears…. About 100 teddy bears so there is enough – one for everyone. The same for the slaughter house school - they need a place and we give them a place – A home. And all you good folks who are reading this, share in this ... are giving our kids a home and a teddy bear.
And together with the grannies and the kids and the teddy bears we will continue our work in celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70 year long reign - His Endless Mercifulness is Imprinted in Every Thai Heart Forever.
Fr Joe & all the kids and staff
Sometimes the 'rules of the slum' require more than gentle persuasion to save an exploited and abused eight-year-old girl from the clutches of a violent drunk
By Father Joe Maie
t's a love story, raw and rough. But first, the ending -- the little girl is safe. Well, that's not totally true, but she's got a promise and she believes the promise. That's important.
True, we needed a "conversation" to make sure everyone understood a few simple rules, with her real mum, and especially with the "slimy pair of trousers" involved with her foolish mum.
The conversation was one-way -- we talk, you listen. Not that we are goody two shoes, but we promised an eight-year-old child that she could go to school every day. Not just now and then, and not a different school every other month. Every day.