Sneaking into school after dark for scraps led a desperate boy of seven to learn vital skills.
By Father Joe Maier
Published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, July 10, 2016
He's the slum kid who once boasted, "I can write my own name." And he learned how to spell. That was a while ago, when he was six. He's 20 now, and his aptitude and fine penmanship served him well during the 18 months he served in juvenile prison. He'd pen letters for prisoners and guards -- a skill and a favour earning him "an edge" in a place where edges save you.
His nickname, Lion Tail Ben, was an edge, also. Sounds totally wild. The fact he was born, bred and reared as a slaughterhouse Klong Toey kid, that didn't hurt either. On certain streets, and in prison, "slaughterhouse" is a badge of honour. It denotes a history that commands a slum-recognisable kind of immediate respect.
The real "baddies" behind bars might prance, posture, howl and roar; anything to keep themselves safe, but slaughterhouse kids have no need to grandstand. They are automatically "hands off". In mafia-speak you might say they are "made men".
By Father Joe Maier
Published Bangkok Post, Sunday, Spectrum section, May 29, 2016.
Why tell this story? Why take the effort to try and remember an 18-year-old street kid who drowned in the Chao Phraya River, half snockered on drugs? So, even though dying and drowning were the last things from his mind, drown he did, die he did. And it was kind of his own fault.
What's that got to do with you or me?
Asleep, groggy, lying beside the river, the wash from a passing tug boat knocked him into the water. No problem so far; because he was the best swimmer in the bunch, the first to climb to the top of the bridge and dive the 20 metres into the river. The problem was, he cracked his skull really hard on an abutment and didn't make it back to the surface.
If these street kids were for sale, they'd be cheaper than a soi dog with mange. That sounds unkind, but it's true. Mostly, they hang out under the old Bangkok Memorial Bridge on the Bangkok side of the river.
There has been lots of international media coverage of the horrible fire in a dormitory in an all girls’ school the other night and rightly so. This is a top quality school founded to teach, especially, indigent Hill Tribe girls. It was a horrible fire that should not have happened. And like all these type of terrible accidents, the cause was a series of little mistakes turning into tragedy. The fire was in the Hill Country of North Thailand some 700 kilometers from Bangkok in a town called Chiang Rai, near the Laotian Border. The seventeen fire victims were girls from age 5 to 12, and one teacher.
We here in Bangkok together with our own slum children are terribly saddened although we did not personally know any of the victims. Nor are we connected with that particular school. However, to show solidary our own 2,500 slum kindergarten children in each of our 24 schools and ten work camps will write a letter from their class to speak of sadness , but also hope for tomorrow and prayers for the children’s families. We are not going to take up a collection, as that is not necessary, as many others are helping.
At the same time, this is a ‘wake-up’ call for safety for our own 24 shanty town old wooden school buildings. We cannot make them fire-proof, nor more than we can make the whole slum fire proof, but we can make them fire safe, meaning – IF there be a fire, our children will know what to do – they can easily escape, as has happened 3 times in the past 45 years. We have never lost a child, nor has there even been an injury. We are Blessed.
We shall write to you again soon, but this is urgent, and I do want everyone to know about this fire.
Prayers as always - my respect to you all from me and our children.