On behalf of all our children, house moms, house dads, teachers, cooks, social workers, and everyone here at Mercy Centre, we wish to thank you for your friendship and support in 2010.
And if we may, we would like to demonstrate with a few 2010 numbers and statistics how your friendship makes a difference for our children and neighbors in Klong Toey.
To start, one-hundred-and-eighty-two orphaned and abandoned children have lived with us as family in 2010. We send our children to school; encourage, tutor and nurture them; open their world to music, dance, sports, fine art, and martial arts; and celebrate everyday life together.
A few more 2010 statistics:
2,324 Slum children enrolled in our 21 Bangkok preschools
651 Education sponsorships for Bangkok’s poorest children
505 Education sponsorships for the poorest Moken (Sea Gypsy) children in Phang Nga, Phuket, and Ranong Provinces
54 Adults receiving palliative HIV/AIDS care in Mercy Centre
846 Mercy HIV/AIDS patients receiving homecare
3,648 HIV/AIDS patients counseled by Mercy teams in government hospitals
88 Street children and adults enrolled in our Janusz Korczak School
359 Destitute families, especially the elderly, who depend on Mercy for food and basic living expenses
380 Poor children we represented in police stations and courts
1,013 Poor children and families receiving legal aid counsel
97 Micro-loans made to members of our Women’s Credit Union
27 Mercy children attending vocational college and universities, at home and abroad
Although there are many more weights and measures in 2010, we wish to leave you with just two.
First, 36 children –27 boys and nine girls - joined our Mercy family in 2010. We have never turned away a child in need and never will.
Finally, our favorite statistic of the year: in the past twelve months 23 Mercy children – 16 boys and seven girls - were able to return home to live with their real families. The transition home for these children rarely is easy. It requires coordinated efforts from diverse Mercy teams – and equal or greater efforts from the families themselves - but nothing we do gives greater joy.
Family is everything.
Thank you for being a part of our Mercy family and for every way you have supported us this year. Every kind word, every warm gesture…. everything you do on our behalf is a wonderful gift.
Wishing you the most joyous New Year with family and friends,
Usanee and the The Mercy Teams
Photo by Yoonki Kim
I’d like to tell you a fantastic story about a bunch of street kids we took camping a few weeks ago.
It was glorious! Just try to imagine a collective burst of joy that shakes the skies and you will start to get an idea of the fun these children had for four days and nights. (Related photo gallery here.)
Normally these street children sleep in abandoned buildings, under bridges and viaducts, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, on a floor inside a friend or relative’s shack for a few days. They trust almost no one, live by their wits, and survive day by day in a world that is horrible and dangerous. Their fatality rate is comparable to soldiers in combat. They really do die young.
Although these kids trust few adults, our social workers were able to persuade forty street kids to join our Mercy staff for a holiday at Kao Yai National Park, where they played children’s games just like other children, took long hikes, exercised until they were exhausted, cooked their own meals, made friends, learned lessons about sharing and about trusting others, laughed more than you might think humanly possible, and, best of all, lived without fear for four full days.
Someone asked me to jot down some words on the celebration of my Ordination and First Mass - about being a "Senior Priest."
Forty Five years ago - counting from today - as a newly Ordained Catholic Priest, I said my First Mass and gave my first Priestly Blessings in a small farmtown-wooden Church in South Dakota in the United States.
It was and still is terribly important that I began my Official Priesthood there, saying my first Mass in that rural community where my Irish and German ancestors homesteaded after the American Civil War. Me, the son of a farmer and the son of a farmer's daughter.
Through these years of my priesthood, it seems that the great rules of Evangelization have become clearer.
To politely say, Good Morning - Good Evening to everyone I meet.
To say I am sorry - to apologize when I am wrong, always giving honor to all I meet along the way.
To say thank you even when it might not seem necessary.
I have been honored and blessed beyond belief in that my Religious Order, the Redemptorists, sent me to Thailand and then Laos, and then, 37 years ago, back to Bangkok to the Slaughter House in the slums, to be Parish Priest for our Catholics who butcher the pigs - where I have been accepted as a true family member and a real part of this beautiful slum community.
My and your stories are not yet finished - the last words have not yet been written and the final scenes are still open-ended. A song writer said: "Been doing some Hard Traveling down the Road" and yes, the future is a mystery, but there is hope. There is joy.
Prayers - fr joe
Here in Klong Toey our children at Mercy Centre played “make-up games” in the streets as did the children behind the barricades, but children do that everywhere. We remain unscathed physically. Emotionally the wounds and scars run raw and deep, and we pray for peace, justice, and the meekness of wisdom.
A founding member and current advisor of our HIV/AIDS homecare and outreach teams, Khun Apiwat Gwangkaew was recently named President of the national Thai Network + (People Living with AIDS).
The Thai Network + is a nationwide organization comprising hundreds of local and regional groups advocating for the rights of PLWA. The Network creates national platforms, based on the voices of those living with AIDS, on issues ranging from national drug licensing and universal drug access to grassroots education and outreach. Apiwat first came to Mercy as a hospice patient and has a remarkable story to tell. In his own words:
"When I was a child, my parents could not take care of me. I was placed with a foster family. The foster family did love me but I missed the warmth that comes from my own family.
Drawing by Ali
In the last few weeks, as Thailand has edged closer and closer toward political and social chaos, we received many calls and e-mails from friends expressing their concern for our children. Thank you so much!
This week everything feels more hopeful. Protesters still occupy the shopping district, fortifying their perimeters with walls of gasoline-soaked tires and sharpened bamboo stakes. The army is still protecting the financial district. But now both sides are talking about withdrawing from their positions. We hope and pray for peace.
Whatever happens, we want all our friends to know that life goes on as always at our Mercy Centre, that we worry about our country and our future, but our focus every second of every day remains on the lives of poor, vulnerable children living on the streets and in slum shacks throughout Bangkok. Our street outreach teams continue to visit and protect children on their daily rounds. Moms and grandmoms still come to Mercy with family emergencies. They rhythms of life on the street and at Mercy remain the same. We are still a big family surrounded by neighbors we know and love.
Since January, 10 new children have joined our Mercy family. Eight of these children (7 boys and 1 girl – Pleam, Praem, Dton, Eh-eh, Than, Phan, Kee-nu, and Mint) lived many years in a local home for children with AIDS - The Kevorkian Home – which recently closed. Two other children, both girls – Ploy, age 5, and Pookie, age 13 - are from the streets.