Galong was in his mid-20s, living on the street, and working as a “doorman” at a bar near the Pratunam market when we found him fifteen years ago. Born with a kind of Downs’ Syndrome, he could speak only a few words, and unfortunately they weren’t the ones he needed to explain where he came from or how he came to live by himself in the most crowded neighborhood in Bangkok.
We don’t know much about Galong’s past, but we have a pretty good idea how he survived on the street: he is incredibly good-natured and loves to help people. Galong comes at you like a burst of joy, and his joy is irresistible. During his years on the street, many kind people must have looked after him.
Others, however, were surely less kind. As a perpetually innocent child, Galong could never possibly negotiate his way through an adult world without facing abuse and injury.
This Wednesday the world will mark World Aids Day. Observed on the first of December each year since 1987, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Between 1981 and 2007, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and there an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, thousands of those are children. In Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey, sixty children are all HIV positive are cared for at the Mercy clinic, many of them are orphaned or abandoned.
Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Father Joseph Maier, Catholic priest at Mercy Clinic; Miss Chutima and Miss Watcharee, Mercy Clinic workers; Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer
Our Rimklongwatsaphan Kindergarten, one of eight preschools we operate in Klong Toey, is a modest wood-frame schoolhouse located right next to a canal, about 200 meters from the Slaughterhouse. It may not look like much, but in the past twenty years, over 1,000 slum children have graduated from this head-start Mercy Preschool in preparation for government primary schools. These are children who might never have gone to school or learned to read and write their names. On its 20th anniversary, we held a grand celebration. (Photo gallery here.)
The children, including several recent graduates, performed in song, dance, drums, horns, and even Hula-hoops.