Happy New Year - the Year of the Monkey!
Our Thai Chinese neighbors and each of us wish you all "Xin Jia Yu Yi - Xin Ni Huad Xai” or “Happy New Year,” as we say in our local Chinese dialect, spoken here in the Klong Toey slums and throughout Bangkok.
All our children know the Blessing – it’s easy to say, if you practice a bit; especially for our kids when they receive the Ang Pau (the Red Envelope, containing their New Year’s Gifts). Which, true, they can immediately spend for candy, but we suggest (gently) to the children that they keep the money, so they will have money all year (as goes the ancient saying, and as Chinese grandmothers tell their children).
We hope every day of your New Year will be brilliant and beautiful. Yes, I imagine there will be a bit of sadness, as all of us might go through some unpleasant moments, but mostly joy.
When you have 150 children in your family, as we do living in our Mercy Centre, every day has its moments. For example, yesterday afternoon, when our kids were coming home from school… Oh! Oh! we had a “tangle” of motorcycles and children on the street as they were returning from school to our Mercy Centre.
There were a few bruises and scratches and lots of police and sirens. And three kids were sent to a hospital emergency room, but were home in two hours – nothing serious. Plus lots of bandages to show off. Plus great stories to tell their peers. But thank goodness, no broken bones and not many stitches.
Taekwondo. A whole bunch of our kids jump on an old smoke-belching pick up each Saturday afternoon – all in proper Taekwondo uniforms attire to attend formal training. We are sponsored by an internationally recognized Asia PacificTaekwondo Academy. Fifteen Mercy children qualified to enter the annual Exhibition. It was a glorious day.
Sister Maria’s 60th Anniversary as a Holy Sister. We had a grand party! In January our most beloved Sister Maria, who began walking the slums some 60 years ago, was absolutely delighted as we humbly gave her red roses and said Holy Mass while hundreds of her "children and grandchildren and now great grandchildren" in the slums joined in honoring our loving, caring “Mamma Maria” mother.
Lots of laughter reverberated through our Mercy Centre and tears of joy were shed for all the years - her whole life and all her energy – given to the poor children of Klong Toey and our Mercy Centre.
Sainthood it is called. Not by the official church, but by the peoples of the slum – thousands of whom she sent to school in our kindergartens, where they learned dignity, plus to read and write.
In the early days of our foundation, Sister Maria and I walked the slums together every morning; and from the day we opened our first kindergarten in the Catholic section of the slaughterhouse, she has been and continues to be the heartbeat of our Mercy Centre.
Children’s Day. Here in Thailand in January each year, we celebrate the joys of childhood. All our kindergarten children participated too! They competed in various sporting events, sang, banged drums, and won medals. Of course, we served food, and they ate noodles by the bucketful. We had over 2,000 children attend, just from our Klong Toey Slum neighborhood plus our nearby kindergartens. All twenty-three of our slum kindergartens held similar celebrations. (photo above, top)
Announcing A New School for Migrant Children. For the past five years, we have been operating schools for migrant children in construction worker camps in Bangkok. Every school day we gently and humbly ask permission from “Camp Leaders” and parents to enter into the camps to teach their kids – children of migrant construction workers in Bangkok. It’s been exciting and we’ve taught lots of kids to read and write and speak Thai.
Now we have permission to teach “market place” children in the Klong Toey Market; the largest fresh market in the city. This makeshift kindergarten school will serve kids whose parents work in the market as “all-purpose folks” – butchers, cleaning ladies, sellers, and shop assistants. Their children lack the documentation needed to enroll in regular government schools, so they are stuck all day in a busy, crowded, scary, market that is in no way “child friendly.” Without a school, they have no chance of learning to read and right or play in a safe place with other children.
My brothers and sisters, this opening of a makeshift school for the poor, migrant children is our Ang Pau – our Red Envelope Gift to each of you, to thank you for all you have done for us and the children of Klong Toey and the other slums and the sea gypsy kids.
The school will be on second floor up the stairs from the chickens and ducks. The owners will let us use some of their space, at least until the chicken and duck market expands – but it’s a start. We don’t need much, besides inspired teachers. Just books, stationery, a few teaching aids, mops, and brooms.
And of course, if you want to give us an Ang Pau in return, we would not refuse; (that would be bad form) and we will ask the children If we can use your gift for their market place makeshift school, and I am sure they will agree... with the one stipulation... that we buy each of them an ice cream cone.
Blessings for the year of the Monkey.
Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
The first rhythmic sounds started around 7:30 last Friday morning. Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Ta dah dum! Dum! Dum! Dum! Gradually the beat of drums, tom-toms, and tambourines grew louder and louder.
Ceilings shook, walls vibrated, furniture trembled.
There’s an unwritten law regarding the nature of five- and six-year-old kids: If you give them a drum or any percussive instrument and ask them to play, they will go wild. And they will not stop until their instruments break or are taken away.
And just to prove this beautiful natural law, our entire Mercy Centre reverberated from building to building, wall to wall, floor to ceiling with the sounds of Children’s Day.
Children’s Day in Thailand always falls on a Saturday, but we celebrated a day early to accommodate the 2,500 students attending our 23 weekday kindergartens.
Of course, every day is Children’s Day in a kindergarten, but it is especially so when there is something extra special to celebrate. And Boy! Oh Boy! Our students got into the spirit of the moment, starting with a magnificent parade down the streets of their slum communities.
Kids marched, kids danced, kids beat their drums, kids shook their tambourines, kids waved placards, kids shouted out “WE ARE CHILDREN AND WE LOVE BEING CHILDREN.” Our children would have been happy to march for miles and miles. They would have been happy to march all day and all night, and start again the next morning.
But there was more fun to be had back in the playgrounds beside their schools, maybe even more fun than they've yet experienced in their young lives. They were to engage in a monumental event. A contest of heroic proportions.
We divided all our students into two teams – the Orange and the Green – and let them duke it out in a rumble of games and contests of skill, ranging from three-legged races to tug-of-wars. The teams had their own cheerleaders and percussionists, who, with epic volume and energy, encouraged their classmates to victory. Moms and dads and grandmas and granddads cheered from the sidelines. Between events, their children sat on their laps.
By the end of the day, every child came home with a well-earned medal. Every kid was a winner!
This Children’s Day was the 43rd we’ve celebrated in our kindergartens. Some things - beautifully, blissfully, thankfully - never change. Children love beating on drums…and celebrating life.
Fr. Joe Maier
We wish to thank all our friends at Mercy Menorca (www.mercymenorca.org) for organizing a concert of classical music on our behalf. The concert brought in much needed funding for our Mercy programs! Thank you!