We are somber but joyful today. Somber because of the Passing of His Royal Highness, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Yet joyful because of his 70 years as Father of our Beloved Land. We miss him, and as one hears on the streets, the Thai expression goes:
Our Beloved dad has died and then they all continue: but don’t worry, we his children will look after the house and our home.
And that is what today is exactly about. We are looking after the house, even though there has been a death in the family. Life goes on.
- Right now the best way to show loyalty and to mourn is to pursue the King’s teachings and we in the shanty slums of Klong Toey will do exactly that.
Also joyful today because we are celebrating this wonder of life with three hundred & eighty elderly folks – mostly grannies who care for our school children. Officially it’s National Welfare Day here in Thailand and Klong Toey, and usually we would have a big party. Today we celebrated in honor of His Royal Highness – we are all wearing black (we wear black every day but today we wore an extra nice black shirt), we said a beautiful poem about our deepest respect for His tireless work. And that we will continue to honor his name by doing our best for the country, for the people – and we had 99 second of silence, in remembrance of Rama IX.
Our staff and 10 of “our” street kids handed out bags of rice, noodles, canned food, cooking oil and hygienic products to our glorious grannies. National Heroine day would be a better name. Where our grand ladies - wrinkled and grey. However, as the wonderful French expression goes - the BLOOM IS NOT OFF THE ROSE. Our grand ladies with their five & six year olds. Look after as best as they can; that the kids do their homework, that they shower in the morning and that they remember their backpacks when they are picked up in the afternoon. These lovely grand ladies do all this while the mums are working or missing and they are reasonably nice to the dads when/if they come around sometimes.
So yes, there is rice and cooking oil, but also a bit of candy for their grandchildren whom they care for – make a home for.
Our school here at Mercy Centre normally has 350 children. Today there are about 100 as it is October School break, and most of the children are with their older brothers and sisters, also out of school for a few days, or have traveled to the Provinces to be with relatives who work the rice fields. But we keep school open for the remaining 100 who have no other place to go during the day, except our school. So yes, we have school, but more games and sweets and some nice person just gave us enough teddy bears…. About 100 teddy bears so there is enough – one for everyone. The same for the slaughter house school - they need a place and we give them a place – A home. And all you good folks who are reading this, share in this ... are giving our kids a home and a teddy bear.
And together with the grannies and the kids and the teddy bears we will continue our work in celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70 year long reign - His Endless Mercifulness is Imprinted in Every Thai Heart Forever.
Fr Joe & all the kids and staff
Thank you for your condolences and prayers. Condolences + to share sorrow = compassion. A beloved friend sent us this Greek word: Silipitria. I am told it means ‘to mourn with’ those who are experiencing a great loss, to feel it deeply, personally. Like compassion, to walk through someone's suffering with them. It's very Christ-like.
The whole of Thailand is somber at the passing of His Majesty; flags fly at Half Mast, there are no partygoers; even Bangkok's notorious traffic crawls along unusually quiet. Yesterday, we celebrated Solemn Requiem Mass with our entire staff. This morning, again, with the children during our regular Saturday morning Mass.
But to dwell in sadness and defeat is no way to honor His Majesty. However sluggish we may feel, life goes on. It must. Our children here at Mercy know that “The Father of our Nation” has died.
So what can we do, they ask? They decided, on their own, to say Three Catholic Hail Mary’s each night for a month. Also, they promised -- really, really deep down promised -- to take extra good care of our home here at Mercy. Even though we are orphans, we do have a home. So, in a children’s way: Protect Our Land, our home. This includes taking care of each other. Making sure we all do well in school. And when we meet kids on the streets, who are homeless like we were, we will invite them to live with us. Doubly so if they are sick, so we may take them to the Hospital. And, of course, the children will continue to care for all the stray doggies and kitties outside our Mercy house (but they cannot come into the house-- thus sayeth Fr Joe’s rules).
So, we ask all of you, our family throughout the world, to join us in "Silipitria" and in prayer. Together we may send good blessings to our orphan children so that they grow from this great loss.
Prayers for all. Fr. Joe & all of us.
Sometimes the 'rules of the slum' require more than gentle persuasion to save an exploited and abused eight-year-old girl from the clutches of a violent drunk
By Father Joe Maie
t's a love story, raw and rough. But first, the ending -- the little girl is safe. Well, that's not totally true, but she's got a promise and she believes the promise. That's important.
True, we needed a "conversation" to make sure everyone understood a few simple rules, with her real mum, and especially with the "slimy pair of trousers" involved with her foolish mum.
The conversation was one-way -- we talk, you listen. Not that we are goody two shoes, but we promised an eight-year-old child that she could go to school every day. Not just now and then, and not a different school every other month. Every day.
We have just finished the great month of August – the month the ancient Druids celebrated the feast of Mother Earth, and we celebrate Our Mother Mary, also Mother of the Earth, and all the living. And we celebrate our children – our children living in the house with us, and of course the 3,000 children who live in their homes. We teach in our slum kindergartens throughout the city slums, and in a dozen of the construction site work camps scattered around Bangkok and the sea gypsy kids off the island in middle south Thailand on the Andaman sea – and our special Janusz Korczak school here in the Klong Toey slums, - for ‘left over kids’ ...
Gee, I do wish you could come to Bangkok and to our Mercy Centre and we would humbly ask permission from our kids – that you visit – because it is their home – their school – and they are always very gracious, and happy to ‘show off.’
Spunky and all of eight when Miss Chompoo collapses, her dorm mates help save her life
By Father Joe Maier
The bloom was off our Rose -- but for only a few minutes. She didn't die. It happened this past June 19, a Sunday. A sudden-death horror story. Almost. It began and ended in five minutes. Literally. Five minutes. But she lived.
That part wasn't guaranteed for another two hours. She regained consciousness in the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
Today, she's back to playing Thai jump rope, her favourite sport. Total recovery. For now. And, really, that's all that matters, isn't it? There are no tomorrows when you are eight.
Our Miss Chompoo is delightfully spunky and spicy -- like Thai chilli peppers. Even with HIV/Aids, she's filled to the brim with life. Yet, most of time, she's demure and as sweet as tamarind candy. She's a six-pill-per-day orphan, and so popular in school she's a star third-grader. I can hear my own grandmum naming her, like in that old song, My Sweet Honeysuckle Rose.
Sneaking into school after dark for scraps led a desperate boy of seven to learn vital skills.
By Father Joe Maier
Published in the Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, July 10, 2016
He's the slum kid who once boasted, "I can write my own name." And he learned how to spell. That was a while ago, when he was six. He's 20 now, and his aptitude and fine penmanship served him well during the 18 months he served in juvenile prison. He'd pen letters for prisoners and guards -- a skill and a favour earning him "an edge" in a place where edges save you.
His nickname, Lion Tail Ben, was an edge, also. Sounds totally wild. The fact he was born, bred and reared as a slaughterhouse Klong Toey kid, that didn't hurt either. On certain streets, and in prison, "slaughterhouse" is a badge of honour. It denotes a history that commands a slum-recognisable kind of immediate respect.
The real "baddies" behind bars might prance, posture, howl and roar; anything to keep themselves safe, but slaughterhouse kids have no need to grandstand. They are automatically "hands off". In mafia-speak you might say they are "made men".
Sorry : (L to R) Liw, Bai Por, Chompoo and Bai Mon
You are family, so you get to share in the beauty and the warts and wrinkles. Just like your own family, except ours might have a few more kids. But the sweetness and the bitter alike. “The Bloom is off the rose.”
This is a horror story, but not quite. In fact, it turned out good – with a party.
Miss Chompo got sick again – violent convulsion/shock. It happened once three years ago, when she was four years old, actually, when her mother was dying of aids, but we had forgotten. She has been a normal healthy 2rd grade school girl. Plays with dolls, doesn’t like worms and creepy crawlies.
A story that should be told: The cast are seven year old Miss Chompo, the unwilling and unwitting heroine, and her three orphan mates who saved her life.
Who was to think – that three orphans, 7 and 11 year olds, would save her life.
She had stopped breathing and was turning that terrible death color. No oxygen to the brain.
A story that should be told; quick action of young children. We adults foolishly assume kids are not that smart. But they are, thus the cast, or the actors, are four.
Sunday evening last week, bed time at nine o’clock, because tomorrow is a school day, it began.
She screamed – really a death scream – and oh dear, she vomited – like across the room – not normal, and went into total shock and lost allconsciousness, she went stiff, then floppy, like a rag doll.
She had collapsed on the floor and her bed mates in the dorm dragged her - carried her best as they could to the infirmary 20 meters away. Laid her out on the floor, stuck a pillow under her head, Miss Bai Mon, the eldest, said go get the nurse... but 7 year old Liw saw she was turning that terrible death color.
She grabbed the oxygen machine and dragging it over to Miss Chompo, plugging it in – turning the nobs and dials to ‘high – full bore’, pushing the vomit aside, out of her mouth, and sticking the oxygen in the sick girl’s mouth.
By this time – literally in less than three minutes, all the 37 girls were there. Miss Bai Por was the one who ran to get the nurse, knocked on his door – got all the other girls to scream loudly, so he heard their shouts and screams.
He came immediately, adjusted the oxygen, and phoned the driver to come immediately. He did – it took about 5 minutes because his house is nearby in the slums.
By that time, they’d propped her up in a wheel chair, and got her connected to a portable oxygen tank, and she was getting a bit of color back, the terrible death color was going away, and all the time the three girls kept holding her, crying – talking to her.
They thought it was food poisoning. Spoiled noodles for lunch. And it was the ‘duck’ noodles the girls really like, so they all ate lots.
Now they know - it was much more serious. Brain scans said there is a calcium ‘spot’ in her brain. But they are giving her medicine to dissolve it.
Miss Chompo finally did open her eyes an hour later in the emergency room – a nurse said that the young girls should not be there... and the kids just glared at her – and didn’t move an inch. No way would they leave their friend. Today, days later, she is back in school, they tell us there will be complete recovery.
Left to right: Liw, Bai Por, Chompoo, and Bai Mon.
So we carry on. Someone recently gave us a bunch of fabulous Swiss chocolate candy, and this was the perfect occasion. We had a small party last night after dinner. Miss Chompo and her three mates were ‘the sponsors’ giving chocolate to all the other girls.
By Father Joe Maier
Published Bangkok Post, Sunday, Spectrum section, May 29, 2016.
Why tell this story? Why take the effort to try and remember an 18-year-old street kid who drowned in the Chao Phraya River, half snockered on drugs? So, even though dying and drowning were the last things from his mind, drown he did, die he did. And it was kind of his own fault.
What's that got to do with you or me?
Asleep, groggy, lying beside the river, the wash from a passing tug boat knocked him into the water. No problem so far; because he was the best swimmer in the bunch, the first to climb to the top of the bridge and dive the 20 metres into the river. The problem was, he cracked his skull really hard on an abutment and didn't make it back to the surface.
If these street kids were for sale, they'd be cheaper than a soi dog with mange. That sounds unkind, but it's true. Mostly, they hang out under the old Bangkok Memorial Bridge on the Bangkok side of the river.