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.
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.
A four-year-old breaks with tradition at her mother's cremation, but for a change no one really minds.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
(PLEASE NOTE: We are trying something different this time. You can read the complete text of the story as it appears in Bangkok Post below. Or listen to Fr. Joe tell the story in his own words without a typewriter here. Please enjoy both versions, thank you!)
The sorrow is intense. Maybe it’s the time of day. Maybe it’s the weather — but I don’t think these things matter much. She’s four and a few weeks and we just brought her “home”. In tears.
Even at four, she knows her mum won’t ever pick her up from school again like mum promised. We’d all gathered at the temple for the cremation. Miss Aye was playing outside the sala with her kindergarten chums, when the loud speaker guy announced, “time to begin the ceremonies."
All by herself, she left her friends and walked over and sat down on the bottom step of “the main” — the steps going up to the platform of the crematorium. She’d been told: you cannot join the actively in the cremation of your mum.
Even at four years of age plus some weeks, Miss Aye knew that. Everyone told her that she couldn’t go up the 12 stairs to where the body of her dead mother was. But she couldn’t understand all the fuss and bother, she didn’t quite digest what had happened to mum.
Our foundation's co-founder and director, Fr. Joe Maier, turned 75 last week. And while he might have preferred a low-key simple birthday, we found great cause to celebrate. Hundreds of Mercy staff, neighbors, friends, and, of course, all our Mercy children took part in the festivities. True to spirit, Fr. Joe made sure the celebration was really about our children. Ice cream was served from a giant bucket, and every kid who wanted a second or third cone was not denied. Top photo: Fr. Joe receives a gift of a red rose from Nong Fon, a blind Mercy girl, with co-founder Sister Maria beside her. Below, ice cream and dance.
Today we celebrated the Loy Krathong holiday in our 23 kindergartens. According to tradition, we float our Krathongs (small vessels that contain our worries, troubles, sins, etc.) down a river. But since no river flows through our kindergarten playgrounds, we used inflatable plastic pools. Our school children were happy, even without a river. To them it's all magic!
We are pleased to show you a new video about Mercy Centre and our new sister charity Mercy Centre Australia (www.mercycentreaustralia.org) produced by Getaway, Channel 9, Australia. As the video communicates so well, we welcome interested visitors to our Mercy Centre! Please watch it here.
Residents of Australia can see the video on the Getaway channel here.
We are pleased to announce that our foundation's co-founder, Fr. Joe Maier, was named one of three finalists for the annual Opus Prize, a prestigious annual award that “recognizes unsung heroes who, guided by faith and an entrepreneurial spirit, are conquering the world’s most persistent social problems.” (Please see details at www.opusprize.org.)
This year’s prize winner, announced last week at the ceremony in Spokane, Washington, was Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, a Catholic nun based in Queens, New York, who runs a foundation for incarcerated women and their children.
The Opus Prize is presented annually to faith-based humanitarians around the world. Each prize is awarded with the assistance of a Catholic university whose faculty and students are involved in the selection process.
There were 26 candidates for this year’s prize. Each organization considered must be entrepreneurial, sustainable and faith-based.
Fr. Joe’s award as a finalist brings honor to our foundation as it recognizes his four decades of work in our beloved Klong Toey slums and all his efforts in educating and protecting the very poorest children.
Photos below: Fr. Joe in early 1980s beside his shack in the slaughter house neighborhood and Fr. Joe this year presenting diplomas on Mercy Kindergarten Graduation Day. In the past 40 years, over 40,000 poor children have learned to read and write in our Mercy preschools. (B&W photos by Yoonki Kim; Slaughterhouse photo by James Coyne.)