Last week I was walking by our Janusz Korczak School – our informal school for street children – when Kru Pranee, a teacher at Mercy Centre for 38 years, beckoned me inside.
“Father Joe, I’m really proud of one my students, and want you to see why.”
Kru Pranee called out to the student, “Neena, come here a moment, and please tell Father Joe about our Solar System.”
Young Ms. Neena, age 8, a Cambodian girl who attends our Janusz Korczak School because she lacks the documents to attend regular government school, looked a bit nervous and shy. She wasn’t used to being front-and-center stage. The youngest in her class of 32 Korczak students, she’d rarely been called upon to demonstrate her knowledge about anything.
It’s an awesome time of the year here in Thailand. Totally awesome.
Flowering trees are in full bloom with every color of the rainbow: so bright and delicate and beautiful, it’s breathtaking. And our kids are taking advantage of every minute of their summer holidays. For at least the next few weeks, they have no mandatory daily duties, no classes to attend, and no obligations apart from looking after themselves and behaving well. They simply get up each morning and try to figure out what they need to do to capture every potential moment of joy during their summer holidays.
The Thai New Year water festival was crazy fun. Imagine: Four full days of splish-splash. Someone gave us a plastic wading pool 24 inches deep and we filled it with the garden hose water. And our five- and six-year olds (especially the girls) were at the top of their splashing game. Best splashers in the whole slum. Stopping only to eat. No, they weren’t forgetting their past pains, but rather embracing the moment. Slum kids who have been hungry on the streets never forget. Even though here at Mercy, there are always double or triple portions, the kids never forget those days when they were hungry.
We opened four new schools in just the past few months!
This announcement may not seem like groundbreaking Mercy Centre news. After all, we currently operate 23 preschools and have opened and operated well over 50 schools at one time or another in the past 40 years.
But these new schools are a big deal to the kids who are attending.
Our new students are construction camp kids, ages 3 to 12. They move around a lot with their parents, from one construction project to the next. So they don’t get many chances to learn to read and write and count and play and make new friends. Our schools may be “it”: their one and only chance in life.
Greetings for Christmas. Our five- and six-year-old kids invented this glorious dance step all on their own. It’s a kind of a jump-up-and-down thing, which they do until they get tired and then collapse on the floor in laughter and giggles. And then they catch their collective breath, and do it again. They said if baby Jesus lived here at Mercy Centre with them, they’d teach him, too.
Beneath the luxury condominiums in Bangkok, often right beside the glitzy shopping malls, you will sometimes come across a guarded, gated camp of corrugated tin shacks. These camps are for the migrant workers, mostly from Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, who come to Thailand to build high rise towers for a minimum daily wage. We operate schools on these sites for the children living in the camps. These shacks and our schools are the children’s entire universe.
We try to give them a lifetime love of learning in a safe place where they can learn to read and write and make friends and play.
Here is a follow up notice about the flash fire that struck our neighborhood this past September. Before the fire was put out, seven homes were severely damaged; four homes were completely destroyed; fifty-one people were left homeless.
Our Mercy Centre community teams worked closely with the victims to ensure that those left homeless had a place to stay, rice to eat, clothes to wear and a plan to rebuild as quickly as possible.
Tons of debris were cleared away. Stakes were put in place to rebuild the homes and repair tattered lives. New homes were built. And last week we held a celebration. Father Joe along with our community teams visited each new home with gifts and blessings! We wish to thank all our friends who gave us and our neighbors much-needed support.
In the past 40 years, our foundation has built or repaired over 10,000 homes in Bangkok’s poorest communities.