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.)
Today we held a celebration in honor of all the men and women who help make our neighborhood in the slums safer, more beautiful, more joyous, and more welcoming. In attendance: all our community leaders and health workers, our women’s group and credit union members, senior Port Authority personnel, our partner NGOs, local fire brigades, police and army personnel, and hundreds of friends and neighbors in the slums. We presented certificates of honor to all our local heroes, danced, feasted, and most importantly, provided balloons galore and plenty of ice cream to the neighborhood children.
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.