Eight years ago Master Don Ferguson, founder of the Asia Pacific Taekwondo Academy and Thailand National Open Taekwondo Championship gold medallist, was invited to exhibit his skills at a benefit event for the Mercy Centre. After learning about the children Mercy cares for, he offered to do more: if the children were interested, he and his team would volunteer to teach the children for free. Our kids thought about Master Don’s generous offer for about a half a second. They were definitely interested! On that day, the Martial Arts Life Skills program was born.
Every Sunday afternoon, thirty-five Mercy boys and girls hop into a few vans that take them to their taekwondo lesson. Master Don explains that he hopes the children gain from taekwondo the same things that he did as a kid: the importance of setting goals, tackling new challenges, and embracing structure and discipline. Taekwondo lessons involve much more than martial arts – the children learn the value of concentration and determination. Perhaps most of all they have lots of fun. The instructors constantly remind the students that if they put in effort and work hard, anything is possible.
One beautiful example of this is Miss Bas, a slum orphan who grew up in the care of her Granny before joining our Mercy family.
Miss Bas started taekwondo as a shy, skinny 15-year-old. She says that she knew from her very first day in the gym that she wanted to earn a black belt and, eventually, become a taekwondo instructor. Most people would have thought that this was an impossible dream. However, she was determined and worked hard to pass her yellow, green, blue, brown and red belt tests. She also started helping the instructors teach all the younger Mercy boys and girls on Sunday afternoons. Master Don, impressed by her positive attitude and determination, then offered Miss Bas a full time job.
Today Miss Bas is an incredible teacher and role model. Applying an approach that is both tough and compassionate, she leads a room full of students through their warm-ups and training. They all look up to her example, knowing that if she was able to become a black belt and achieve a successful career, they can too. Master Don proudly says that hiring Miss Bas is one of the best decisions he has ever made.
Our Taekwondo program is an example of how different people contribute in unique and valuable ways to the lives of the Mercy children. Parents of other APTA students donate funds to buy uniforms and belts to help defray costs. Master Don and his team continue to dedicate their time every Sunday to teach, encourage and inspire the children to try their best and acquire valuable physical and mental skills that will benefit them long into the future. Progress can be slow and the Mercy kids work hard to meet the high standards required to achieve each hard won stripe and belt. They are determined.
The instructors, especially Miss Bas, can’t wait to see who will be the next Mercy black belt and success story.