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.
Right now is by far the most exciting time of year at Mercy Centre.
Every day it seems something wonderful happens. On a Monday Father Joe receives an honorary award as a Child Protection Ambassador for Thailand, the first foreigner ever to be so honored. On a Tuesday, two of our children, Miss Ewe and Miss Oom, score the highest grades in their class. Actor Jackie Chan drops by our Mercy Centre to sing and dance with our kids on a Wednesday. Then Thursday arrives, and we celebrate World AIDS Day at Mercy Centre, where hundreds of poor teenagers gather to learn about prevention and compassion. On a Friday, our boys living on the farm win their soccer match.
And every new day is one day closer to Christmas. The excitement builds. Our children know that Santa Claus and presents with cakes and ice cream are just around the corner. Plus the New Year celebrations!
We have much to be grateful for in 2009.
When the world economy plummeted in 2008, we began adjusting for this year, cutting costs everywhere except in staff numbers, and then we made a promise - Father Joe, Sister Maria, all my colleagues at Mercy, and myself - to the poor we serve.
We promised, no matter what, to make sure that every poor child we meet goes to school. We promised to never turn away a child in need and to welcome each boy or girl into our family. We promised to provide an umbrella of care for the poorest of the poor living with AIDS. We promised not to let our poor neighbors down.
As the year ends, even as 2009 funding declined as predicted, we have still kept all our promises. A few statistics:
3,451 Children enrolled in Mercy Kindergartens
753 Children graduating into primary school
434 Education sponsorships for Bangkok's poorest children
114 Emergency and micro-loans to our Women's Group
132 Street children we protect by the day
189 Children living in Mercy Centre
543 Children we represented in police stations and courts.
5,000+ Poor people living with AIDS in our care or receiving our assistance in our hospice, in their homes,, aand at government hospitals
1,000,000+ Servings of rice we provided to our children, students, the elderly, and handicapped.
And behind these statistics are thousands of individual stories. Father Joe wrote a beautiful piece - "It's All in The Game" - about three of our kids: Nong Fon and Nong Peh, both blinded from AIDS, and their Big Sister Miss Rin.
Miss Rin, age 15, mentally disabled and physically disfigured from birth, was abandoned to the streets where she, too, got AIDS. As far as we can tell, and we don't know much because Rin refuses to speak of her past, her whole life had been one of hiding from others in fear. Yet on the first day Miss Rin came to Mercy, in fact the very moment she met our two blind girls, Nong Fon and Nong Peh, Miss Rin found love.
Miss Rin loves Nong Peh and Nong Fon with a tenderness so profound it defies our understanding. They giggle and laugh together all day long. She showers, diapers and feeds them, plays games with them, and makes them laugh whenever they are the slightest bit sad. All three girls have speech impediments, yet somehow everything they say to each other is crystal clear. At night, Miss Rin tucks them into bed and sings them her own made-up lullabies.
These children are the beauty that is Mercy.
Thank you for providing our children with a world full of dignity and joy in 2009. Thank you for giving to our foundation in every way you give, for sponsoring our children, for volunteering, for every gift you bring or send us, for every phone call or letter you've written on our behalf, for every kind word you've said about us to friends and family. All of you make an enormous difference.
Please continue to support us in 2009 and 2010. Please help us in any way you can to keep our promises to the poor.
Wishing all our friends a Merry Christmas and New Year filled with joy,
Usanee, The Mercy Teams,
And All Our Mercy Children
If you had dropped by our Mercy Centre last Sunday, you would have seen something quite stunning, something even more beautiful than you could ever have imagined in a shelter for abandoned, abused, and orphaned children.
We held our 4th Annual Family Day for our Mercy children, and it was gorgeous. One-hundred-and-sixty-three family members attended this one-day celebration and workshop: tons of Moms and Dads, many out of jail, all of them full of hugs and kisses; even more Grandmoms and Granddads with pockets full of candy; Aunties and Uncles in glorious abundance; and a whole flock of brothers and sisters who are only just now getting to know their siblings at Mercy.
From the moment a new boy or girl arrives at our Mercy Centre, we start trying to get this child back home. In the meantime and for as long as a child is with us, we give all the love we can. Our children come to us feeling abandoned, damaged, and wounded, which means that a huge part of our love for these children must be in helping them to heal. Everyone who works at Mercy Centre - every cook, driver, teacher, security guard, homecare giver, hospice helper, social worker, our entire community service staff, absolutely everyone – thinks of and treats each child as his own, only perhaps more gently. The children call us Mom, Dad, Uncle or Auntie.
Yet no matter how much we love our children, nothing can replace the love of a real loving family… a mom brushing her young daughter’s hair or a dad teaching a toddler how to kick a ball.
So we try everything possible to keep families together. Often it takes just the repair of a single shack or occasional delivery of nutritious dry foods. (We furnish extra food and other simple necessities for 143 of the more than 500 families we visit in our HIV/AIDS Homecare Program.)
One family we recently visited had been living in a makeshift shack made mostly of cardboard and mildewed, waterlogged debris. To keep Mom, Dad, and Daughter together, we built them a sturdy, weather-proof shack with running water and a toilet, and found steady work for Dad as a parking lot security guard.
New boy at Mercy.
For our newest Mercy boy, Master Tone, there is no alternative right now apart from Mercy Centre.
An 8-year-old orphan, Tone had been living with his 83-year-old Grandpa in a bamboo shack on the outskirts of a remote village in Nokorn Pathom Province. Grandpa can’t walk and can’t provide or care for Tone the way Tone needs; and because he loves Tone and wants him to learn and play with other children, Grandpa asked us for help. It is a great honor for us to welcome Tone into our family. He will be going back to see Grandpa on the school holidays. More photos in gallery.
But what happens to children who apparently have no family and no documentation? Legally, these children don’t exist.
That was the case with a Thai boy named Bird, who came to us from the streets at age 8. He knew his nickname was Bird and that he once had a mother, that his mom left his dad and upcountry village and moved to Bangkok when he was four, that by age seven his mom was dead. By the time he came to live with us, holding no citizenship papers, no documentation at all, Bird had no right to live or go to school or ever hold a job in the country of his birth.
Bird stayed with us on holidays as a part of our family. During the school year, the government sent him to a special school/reformatory that allows stateless children to earn some rights of citizenship. Meanwhile, we never stopped looking for Bird’s family. We made over a dozen false starts and drove in many wrong directions on jeep-track roads to distant provinces and back again in search of Bird’s family. Eight years passed. Bird turned sixteen.
Eventually (by luck and sheer stubbornness) we found Bird’s home province, and from there his home district, and eventually the village leader of Bird’s village, who said that he remembered Bird, but that his mom had told everyone Bird had died. And then we found Bird’s Dad!
If you’re confused about this story, imagine how Bird feels.
Oh, and a few weeks later, Bird finally received his citizenship documents.
Here’s a quick overview of recent Mercy highlights.
Legal Aid and Anti-trafficking Centre for Street Children. We continue to oversee more than 60 cases per month, spanning every crime from murder to trespassing, with a focus on child protection cases. In the last two months we represented children in twenty-three cases of sexual and physical abuse and abandonment.
Hospice. Our newest projects aim to move our patients from hospice to homecare and include work therapy (sewing), and income generation (preparing tiger balm for sale). To measure the impact of these new projects and all our HIV/AIDS programs, we are starting to work closely with university research centers, collecting and analyzing data, measuring results, and adjusting each program accordingly for continuous improvement
Our Korczak School for street children – Lek, age fourteen, is the newest student enrolled in our Korczak School. Typical of street kids, he has no documents, no known parents, no rights to citizenship, and no right to attend school. Together with a kindly old man who has looked after him for many years, Lek picks through recylable garbage to earn a living on the streets. Our legal aid centre is now searching for his documents.
Please write and visit. We always miss our friends. Friends make our world go ‘round at Mercy Centre. Friends and Family.
Uanee Janngeon and Mercy Team
It’s always a joy to write to our friends, especially when I can begin by telling you a lovely story.
This story is about a young lady, Miss Wanwisa, raised in a slum by a Klong along Petchburi Road. We first met her when she began attending one of our Mercy preschools twenty years ago. Her parents could not afford the 5 baht daily school fee on most days, so we waived the fee (as we still do today for about 500 of our poorest preschool students) and continued sponsoring Wanwisa’s education after preschool graduation.
After earning her high school diploma, Wanwisa was selected to enter Thailand’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University, but instead she opted to complete a 2-year International Baccalaureate program on full scholarship at the United World College in Norway, followed by a full 4-year scholarship at St. Lawrence College in the U.S. In the summers, Wanwisa came back to Mercy Centre to be a Big Sister to our own children and to tutor the ones preparing for international schools.
On behalf of everyone at Mercy Centre – especially our children, House Moms and House Dads, teachers, tutors, cooks – we wish to thank you and wish you the best of everything with family, friends, and life.
Usanee and the Mercy Team
We work to help the children and communities of the many slums of Bangkok. Together with our neighbors here in the slums, we create simple-but-progressive solutions that touch the lives of thousands of the poor every day. You can help us today, by completing the online donation form, and take a first step in making a difference, please click here to make a donation now.
If you would like to learn how you and your business can work with us to support the activities at the Mercy Centre, please contact us today.