The Human Development Foundation began on an early morning in 1973, as it has every day since, with a daily walk in the slum neighborhoods. Father Joe and Sister Maria saying good morning to all their neighbors. How are you today? Do you have any food for breakfast? Is there anything we can do to help? Fr. Joe was the Parish Priest for the Catholics who butchered the pigs. The parishioners lived and worked in the slaughterhouse of Klong Toey, Bangkok’s largest slum community. Sr. Maria came daily from her Convent and began teaching Catechism to the Catholic children. She actually taught the children where they played… in a seldom-used holding pen for pigs.
In 1973 Slaughter House kids did not go to school, and the few who did failed dismally and dropped out. The one or two schools available begrudgingly took them in. Teachers singled them out as what not to be.
Telling anyone “I’m from the Slaughter House” marked you like an ugly tattoo: branded you forever. You couldn’t go to school. Couldn’t get a real job. Butchering pigs, washing entrails, frying down pork fat into lard… these were the choices available.
Sr. Maria and Fr. Joe turned a slum shack into a one-baht-per-day preschool for every child in the Slaughter House, children of all religions. No child was turned away. Thus (without saying so or calling itself anything) began The Human Development Foundation. Now, today in 2012, there are twenty-two Mercy Kindergartens with over 2,500 slum children going to school. Alumni of the first Slaughter House kindergarten are teachers, executive secretaries, nurses, taxi drivers, and butchers. Many are now married with their own children attending proper schools. Dead-end, throw-away slaughter house kids no longer.
The HDF Initiatives and Achievements:
1973- First Mercy School opens in the Slaughter House neighborhood.
1975 – The HDF street children outreach program formally begins.
1976 - First HDF shelter for street children opens.
1977 – The HDF begins operation of Klong Toey's first free outreach health clinic for the poor.
1981 – The HDF housing program commences. Hundreds of landless families begin moving into self-built homes co-financed and co-constructed by HDF for the indigent and elderly and those forcibly evicted.
1982 – Father Joe establishes prison visitation program for the Archdiocese of Bangkok and begins 27-year tenure as Prison Chaplain at Bang Kwang Maximum Security and Klong Prem Lat Yao Federal Prisons for men and women.
1982-89 – The HDF housing program continues to expand. Mercy preschools are operating in over 20 slum communities. The HDF keeps an open-door policy in its shelters for abandoned slum and street children. Following devastating slum fires, The HDF rebuilds entire squatter neighborhoods. We continue organizing slum communities, begin credit unions and women’s groups, and work with community organizations and government.
1990-94 - As AIDS enters Bangkok’s slum communities, The HDF pioneers AIDS awareness and education in a door-to-door two-year campaign to talk about AIDS and the pressing needs of children and adults afflicted.
1994 – The HDF opens Bangkok’s first free AIDS hospice. Fr. Joe becomes Founding Member of Asian Coalition for Housing Rights.
1995 – The HDF helps found the Thai Confederation of Street Children.
1997 – The HDF opens home for mothers and children and initiates AIDS homecare program among the poor.
1997 – The HDF founds the Klong Toey Women's Group and Savings and Loan, providing low interest loans and empowering poor women through financial security.
1998 – Mercy Preschool System continues expansion: over twenty-five preschools thorughout Bangkok.
1998 – The HDF opens Thailand’s only Legal Aid Centre dedicated solely for poor children.
1999 – The HDF organizes the Klong Toey Handicapped Group, uniting the physically handicapped in seeking their rightful benefits and gainful employment.
1999 - In a memorandum of understanding with Family and Children's Courts, The HDF begins accepting children through the criminal court system as an alternative to incarceration in detention centers.
2000 - New home for Mothers and Children living with HIV/AIDS is opened, Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana-Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra presiding at opening ceremony.
2001 – The HDF Mercy Homes and Shelters are rebuilt and expanded, former Prime Minister, His Excellency Khun Anand Panyarachun, UNICEF Representative to Thailand, presiding at ceremony.
2004 – The HDF opens the Janusz Korczak School for Street Children, providing basic literacy and trade skills for older street children.
2005 – In response to the devastation of the massive tsunami, The HDF initiates emergency relief and housing projects; and transfers its slum-community organization skills to the Thai southern provinces affected. Working together with 20 villages, by end of year 2005, The HDF with community carpenters has co-built and renovated over 500 homes damaged or destroyed; provided long-term education assistance to 500 students; manufactured and installed over 3,000 industrial-size water jars for individual homes; repaired and replaced fifty village wells and school water tanks, and installed twelve water purification systems; built over 250 toilet facilities for schools and homes; and created income-generating projects for the destitute. The HDF formed a federation of twelve primary schools along the sea coast, where its teachers selected Mokan (Sea Gypsy) children for education sponsorships who are the poorest of the poor. To this day, The HDF works with the schools, the Department of Education, local politicians and village elders, and Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian leaders in a joint effort to provide educational funding for 500 Mokan children.
2007 – HIV/AIDS Homecare Program expands to reach over 450 patients throughout Bangkok.
2007 – The HDF rebuilds two poor neighborhoods - over 100 homes - after devastating slum fires. In other neighborhoods, 30 homes for elderly poor are renovated. By 2007, The HDF has built and renovated over 10,000 homes for the poor.
2007 – Bangkok Metropolitan Authority awards three Mercy Preschools with certificates of excellence as exemplary schools for poor children.
2007 – Janusz Korczak School begins evening literacy classes for adults, with 50 attending.
2008 - Mercy boys, ages 9-13, move to a farmhouse in a patch of countryside just 30 minutes form Mercy Centre. Our boys grow their own rice, fruit and vegetables; catch their own fish for dinner; and gain skills and self-esteem that are improving their performance in school and their entire life outlook.
2008-9 - In a joint signing ceremony between parents, community leaders, and slum kindergarten school representatives, the HDF formally entrusts eleven former Mercy preschools to the care and mangement of their own slum communities. These communities have gained strength to oversee their children's education and preparation for entry into primary school. The hand-over of these schools demonstrates the power of education to transform poor communities.
2009 - The HDF begins operation of a "movable" preschool made of bamboo for the children living in a large construction site in Samut Prakan Province.