Born in a shack, half-blind and fearless, but there's still honour in a wasteland child.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
It’s a story that simply needs to be told. Sai Chon, the half-blind, no-fear, ex-rubbish dump kid. He’s moving up the social ladder. “Shack-born” in a city rubbish dump, where he spent his early years, he's now only a part-time street kid.
He’s done well in life so far. A sixth grade graduate of the Blind School, he can read and write braille, but not brilliantly. He admits to being a bit lazy in lessons, since he can still see partially out of his left eye.
Three months in detention for vagrancy and loitering in a public place (ie, begging) is unfair, he said. He told them he didn’t do anything wrong. But the uniforms wouldn’t listen. To them simply hanging around is vagrancy and that breaks the penal code. They said three months and that was that.
Today at Mercy Centre we celebrated the birthday of Galong, our oldest Mercy boy. Born with a type of Downs' Syndrome and abandoned to the streets in his youth, he was found by our social workers over twenty years ago near the Pratunam Market, and has been living with us as an older brother to our younger boys ever since. When we found him, he had no given name, so we named him "Galong," a Thai bird without a nest. And he had no documentation, so we made Valentine's Day his birthday - because that is what he is about: absolute love and joy. We don't know his exact age, so we approximate. On Valentine's Day, Galong celebrates his 49th birthday. Happy Galong's Day, everyone!
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.
What a difference a bowl of rice makes! What joy a toy brings to a child in our shelters!
Gifts-in-kind make a huge difference in our ability to protect and shelter poor abandoned and orphaned children here in our Mercy Centre. Such gifts especially impact the operation of our 23 kindergartens and schools for children living in construction worker camps. We rely on gifts-in-kind in everything we are trying to do.
A beautiful example: foodpanda, a restaurant delivery service, asked its customers to select gifts for Mercy during their 12 Days of Christmas “Light Up a Soul” charity campaign. The results: almost a ton of the most important stuff we need – from rice and cooking oil to toys and stationery.
Gifts-in-kind help lower our operating expenses in the care of our children, our HIV/AIDS patients, the street children we protect daily, and our poorest neighbors in the slums. They allow us to reach out further to support the poorest communities that government ministries and non-government organizations either ignore or don't even know exist.
Please note: Because of customs duties, we cannot accept gifts-in-kind from abroad. However, if you live in Thailand, there may be no better way for you to help those who need our help the most. Photos above and below: Mercy Kids with Panda, staff, Fr. Joe Maier, and foodpanda MD Alexander Felde.
Mercy Centre is hardly a household name in Spain, but we do have many kind friends, and we wish to thank them all for the concert they organized on behalf of our sister charity, Mercy Menorca. All proceeds from the concert, called “Semillas de la vida” (seeds of life), performed this past November in Barcelona, will go to support our program to protect and defend Bangkok’s street children. Our heartfelt thanks ring out to all the performers, including dancer Ayako Zushi, pianist Gloria Argany, and the poet Luisbel Rodriguez, who conceived of the concert and brought it to fruition. Thanks also to all guests who helped make the concert a beautiful event. And most special thanks to Mercy Menorca! For more information on how we care for street children, please visit our program page here. (Photo below by Ian Taylor: a Mercy social worker with a child beggar on the streets of Bangkok.)
In celebration of Thai National Children’s Day, each of our 23 kindergartens held a spectacular sports competition this morning that featured running races, musical chairs, and even a highly skilled balloon-popping event.
Was it a memorable day? Was it ear-shatteringly loud? Was it insanely fun? Yes, Yes, and YES!
Cheerleaders, along with percussive bands, inspired their teams to near-deafening victory. Every kid earned a gold or silver medal. Every kid ate plenty of ice cream and cake. Every kid went home a winner. More photos on our facebook page here.
Our Mercy Christmas Pageant, spiritually joyous, beautifully choreographed, featured performances by our Mercy children, our Mercy Kindergarten students, and the poorest children in our community whose education we sponsor from kindergarten onwards. The pageant energy reached its peak with a final performance by our Mercy boys band, aka KIDS ROCK, who brought all the children to their feet, plus most adults, to dance to the joy of the beat. Photo gallery on our facebook page here.
Even in forgotten places, there’s a touch of Christmas in the moments families share together.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, Dec. 21, 2014:
By Fr. Joe Maier
Christmas this year — the date is marked in local calendars as the fifth day of the rising of the moon in the second month of the Lunar New Year. The word Christmas is not mentioned.
Christmas here in Thailand can silently slip by, unnoticed, if you’re not alert. Our annual commercial Thai greeting cards sold in the shops do not mention the words Merry Christmas, only Happy New Year. Christmas day this year, Thursday, is an ordinary weekday: school for the kids, banks, post offices and government offices all open, an ordinary night to butcher pigs in the slaughterhouse. The usual television soap shows.
Maybe there will be a short mention on the evening news. Officially, Christmas doesn’t exist. That’s why it’s so important, vital that we make the birthday of Jesus meaningful for ourselves, for our children, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian.
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.
World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988.
Today, many scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. But despite this, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV. World AIDS Day is important as it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
Mercy as the leading HIV/AIDS community organization in the poorest Bangkok communities, we are still battling issues of awareness and prevention. The general populations in the poorest communities are still unaware of their rights to receive access to health care relating to AIDS. These rights include access to health checkups, blood tests, consultations, medicine, and follow-up care. Their ignorance of their rights is due mainly to the stigmatization of people living with AIDS within Thai culture and society.
This project will battle community ignorance and encourage people to learn about their HIV status. In concert with government health care centres, we will promote the VCCT program (Voluntary Counseling, Confidential Testing) – a program that will encourage every member of our communities, especially young women and teenagers, to be tested for HIV.