We are happy to report that friends in Australia have registered a charity on our behalf.
Residents of Australia who wish to give to our Mercy Centre may now make tax deductible contributions through our new Australian charity.
If you wish to make a donation to our Mercy Centre or sponsor a Mercy child, you may do so on their website at www.mercycentreaustralia.org.
You can learn more about our Mercy Centre and our new Mercy Centre charity in Australia this Saturday on "Getaway Australia" October 11, at 5:30pm.
By Shane Bunnag
Published in Nikkie Asian Review, Sept. 15, 2014,
Test and photos: http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/Thailand-s-little-loan-sharks-face-thinner-pickings
BANGKOK -- Eight years ago, when Thailand was embroiled in an earlier bout of political strife and I was trying to make a documentary in Bangkok's main slum, Klongtoey, an avuncular Catholic priest who worked there told me something I've carried with me since: "Whatever is going to happen in Thailand happens first in the slum. We've got the best and the worst of the country right here."
I do not always agree with Father Joe Maier, the priest, but I admire him. He has dedicated his life to helping the neediest people, and going about it in a no-nonsense style. "I'm a fat, bald priest," he is fond of saying. "If I can't tell the truth, then who are you going to hear it from?" Originally from the U.S. state of Washington, he has been a resident of Klongtoey for decades. For much of this time, he lived in a hovel built over raw sewage and compacted garbage.
The Bangkok slums range from thin strips of lost road to beleaguered hamlets and, in the case of Klongtoey, entire shantytowns. They corrode the mottled veneer of the modern city like traces of a forgotten undercoat. Over 100,000 people live in Klongtoey alone. The slums are more than ghettos for the urban poor; they encapsulate the larger story of the marginalized among Thailand's 66.7 million people, and their floundering ways of life. They are populated by those who cannot survive in dignity like their ancestors -- as farmers, fishermen and day laborers -- and cannot find a place in a transforming society.
On an island near Myanmar, Moken children get not only an education but a sense of pride, and are taught it's not over until the fat lady apologises. Published by Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, September 28, 2014: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/434772/the-sea-gypsies-new-flag
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Twenty young boys and girls from the Kao Lao Moken sea gypsy camp on an island near Ranong were swimming as fast as they could. A fat lady in a long-tail boat was bearing down on them, poking at them with a stick with spines on it.
It began innocently enough, when two of the best swimmers, Nid and Nung, both eight and becoming among the first in the community to learn how to read, write and count, asked the headmistress of our school if the class could take a break and go swimming. The teacher said OK, and when they returned they began to discuss a special event.
Teacher said yes, it's Saturday when we usually have classes to "catch up", but promised this Saturday would be a special day. Birthdays and names would be celebrated, followed by a swimming contest and ice-cream. Let's make today an exception.
The incoming high tide on the Andaman Sea was perfect for swimming and the water was so clear you could see three metres, right to the bottom. And there were no jellyfish. It was not yet their season, when they might sting you, upset that you invaded their space.
This was a very special place. When the tide was low, you could walk all the way to Queen Victoria Point in Myanmar, a distance of maybe 3km, with the water mostly no deeper than your waist.
At a glance, you would hardly know you were in a swank Bangkok neighborhood.
All you can see in front of you are rows and rows of corrugated tin shacks in a field of mud. Yet just beyond the shacks, just a few blocks away, the streets are full of posh condos and fancy restaurants.
What you’re seeing is a construction workers camp, filled with migrant families, mostly from Cambodia, who have come to Thailand to eek out a semi-nomadic living, moving from one construction site to another, wherever they can earn a modest day-wage.
During the day, most moms and dads here are working on nearby construction sites while a few grandmas look after the babies and toddlers. The older children are left to fill their days idly in their shacks or to wander and play in patches of deep rutted sludge. The children are not allowed off premise. This mud patch is their world, their entire universe.
What a glorious day!
Our Korczak School students had been preparing for the big event for over a week. They practiced their classical Thai song and dance performances. They created an art exhibit of their own original photography. They wrote speeches and memorized every word. They even baked cakes and cookies on the day before the event.
They were more than ready to celebrate.
The 10th Anniversary Celebration of our Janusz Korczak School, held last Thursday, turned out to be fabulously fun, and moving.
We opened our Janusz Korczak School in 2005, at first for several children who lived with us as family in our Mercy Centre – kids who simply could not fit into regular school.
Many Mercy kids had been living on the streets before they joined our family and missed out on an early education. Other Mercy kids missed out because they were too weak from AIDS or had other physical ailments. Some Mercy kids were developmentally slow. No government schools would take them in.
The good news first: it wasn’t a major a fire. It didn’t rage on for hours.
This one, fortunately, was quickly contained. The folks rallied – using fire extinguishers and buckets of water – and they raced to set up a portable pump to open a hydrant. Thank goodness we had a strong rain a few hours earlier.
But every slum fire, even one that is contained within minutes, can destroy several structures and leave dozens of our brothers and sisters homeless.
It happened about a week ago in the 70 Rai community, just a few blocks from our Mercy Centre. Seven homes were severely damaged; four homes were completely destroyed. In total, 51 adults and children were left homeless.
Last week our 2,500 kindergarten students enjoyed a full day of activities dedicated the joy of science. Our children discovered what life looks like under a magnifying glass and how to blow bubbles. Plus other super fun activities!
A few quick notes:
First, because several friends heard I was ailing and I don’t want people to worry.
I write to you from my home at Mercy Centre after a few days in hospital. It was something I’ve put off for twenty years that finally needed attention – a multiple-hernia – that’s now taken care of. And I’m already on the mend. Thanks to everyone for best thoughts and prayers.
Happily ensconced at home to mend (with more than enough time to sit and reflect), I have much to share with you today, starting with some fabulous news here in Mercy Centre.
August has been awesome for our kids.
By Father Joe Maier
Published by Bangkok Post, Sunday Edition, Spectrum, July 6, 2004
Miss Tang: she’s one of the happiest girls I have ever met. And you can just close your eyes and visualise her — a super kid at the top of her game of life. Hasn’t lost a battle yet, although she’s been battered and bruised much too often for any teenager.
Maybe she should be a bit taller, as she didn’t eat very well during those early years — and her skin is a mess coz of a mass of scars — keloids from bug bites and mosquito bites which she has picked up from rough living. Her face is unblemished.
She’s that kind of slum girl. Ask her if she’s hungry and she says "it’s not supper time yet" even though her tummy might be rumbling. Her hair is ponytail length and luxurious like you see on the telly. She’s so proud of her hair. Says her grandma once told her, "You have your mother’s hair." Our mae ban (housemaid) gently suggested a "trim" and she welled up in tears. "My hair makes me beautiful."
One slum cat and three puppies have "adopted her". Folks here at the Mercy Centre said, "No way." She says it’s "payback time" in memory of another slum dog who would help her find food in the garbage in the difficult times.
Slum Priest in Bangkok
From the Huffington Post, June 24:
By Katherine Marshall
My always iconoclastic grandfather intrigued me by insisting that he wanted to go to Hell. It might be unpleasantly hot but the people there would be interesting and would have a sense of fun. The virtuous people who went to Heaven were not people he wanted to spend a lot of time with.
I recently met a man in Bangkok who is clearly en route to Heaven, and who could make it fascinating and fun.
Father Joe Maier has spent the past 45 years in the Klong Toey district of Bangkok, a rather notorious slum community. A Redemptorist priest born in Seattle, Father Joe walks the streets of his neighborhood each day, finding solutions for the constant problems that people face. For years he lived in a shack, either above a busy slaughterhouse or by a foul-smelling waterway. Today, he presides over the thriving "Mercy Centre", a buzzing haven right in the midst of the slum community. There children live, learn, and play in safety, surrounded by love.
Mercy Centre combines many functions: orphanage, kindergarten, center for HIV and AIDS programs, child protection and legal aid, support for housing, and base for children who live on the streets. It has developed organically over the years, from a very small beginning as a makeshift child care center to a substantial organization that is blessed by Thailand's royal family.
Father Joe has managed to build his haven despite the fact that he is a foreigner and, as a Christian, part of a small minority. His success is part raw grit and persistence, part vision, and part force of personality.
The grit takes the form of a determination to keep at it, day after day. Father Joe accepts the faults of those he works with and he works within the system. There are few saints in the slums and every small action for good takes compromise. But Father Joe sees possibilities and solutions where others see hopelessness and corruption. He is a man who never gives up. He does not accept that something he thinks is right is impossible.
The vision is above all about the children. The centerpiece of Mercy Centre is the network of 33 kindergartens, where children spend three years. And at the end they dress in graduation robes, as does Father Joe, and he speaks gravely to them (and to their relatives). His message: "Go to school. Go to school. Go to school. If your Daddy is a drunk, go to school. If your Mommy is a card shark, go to school. If your Grandma is on drugs, go to school." He places his faith, in short, on education and on the chance that it offers to overcome even the worst start that life can offer. Mercy Centre has successes, too: graduates who have gone to the United World Colleges and who have impressive degrees and career paths. Many teachers at Mercy Centre are graduates from long ago. The vision, then, inspires people around him.
Another part of Father Joe's vision is that peace is grounded in a broad spirituality, rather than any specific dogma. He works with the Muslim imams in the area as well as the Buddhist monks. If there is ever trouble in the area, he says, there is a tacit pact that the Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists will support each other, with food or whatever else is needed.
But much of Father Joe's achievements come back to sheer force of personality. There's a well of outrage that is obvious and bursts out on occasion, an outrage that comes from seeing raw injustice and suffering all around. But there's also hope and love that win out. Father Joe seems able to find real good in everyone, as well as humor. He takes problems one at a time and he simply will not give up.
Today's news is full of Thailand's military coup and political stalemate. What's happening there has a lot to do with the divisions between the haves and have nots. Thailand's booming economy transformed the country in many ways but it has left many behind. It seems hard to believe, picking one's way through the drains and smells of vast slums that city dwellers are better off than many in the rural areas, in terms of health and nutrition. In the city hope always seems somewhere within reach and the magnet draws many in. But daily reality is harsh and it seems cruelest for the children caught in the vortex. It is simply impossible to explain or justify a society where some are so rich and so many are so poor, and where predators are a daily fact of life.
So Father Joe walks the streets, greeting everyone as an old friend, goading them to act, taking a child on if no one else takes care. He tells stories, talks about the "fookin'" bureaucrats in his way or the demons that plague him, and laughs at himself and his colleagues. People love and admire him because he is so human but also because they sense the deep courage, care, and faith that drive him.