Hey guys and ladies. Wish you could have been here last week. Last week was Songkran – Thai New Year – the Water Festival. Except that might not have been room for all of you in the kiddie plastic wading pool we had - but almost. Many of the children at Mercy Centre went home for the holiday; to visit their grannies, aunties and cousins. For the ones who do not have a home, we had a great celebration right here in Klong Toey. No – not like ‘up town’ with big and dangerous water pistols and all that fancy stuff. Our kids decided to use only stuff which they knew that If they sprayed the statue of the Buddha, he wouldn’t be upset. Not these water cannons.
We fill our plastic kiddie pool with water and this year no one was safe from a splash of water or ten – it must be the coolest celebration in the shanty slums – our kids are allowed to swim and play ALL week!!
And we actually had a contest - who could splash water the best?
So lots of splashing and noise. And question: do you want to know perhaps the most beautiful musical sound on the planet? Of course you want. And the answer is simply 33 five & six & seven year old girls playing and splashing water. And after that another 30 of Mercy’s five & six year old boys splashing and singing and shouting, but more shouting that singing.
We decided to play and then pray. Maybe it should have been the other way around, but play we did and pray we did. I don’t think the Good Lord cares which comes first.
Songkran is the tradition and celebration of pouring lustral water on Buddha images and water on the hands of the elderly. We believe this is a blessing and good fortune for the year to come. Also to wash away last year’s sins. At the same time we ask forgiveness and show our respect for the elderly and in return they will gift us good wishes for the year to come. The festival also welcomes the much needed rainy season for our crops and land.
Dear everyone – each year, for the past 49 years, in one way or another, I have written an Easter story for you – as a blessing and as a ‘Thank you’ for all that you are for our children and for the poor in the slums of Bangkok.
Our kids, Buddhists, Moslems & Catholics already know the Easter story. That humble Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles – and the bad guys nailed him to a Cross and God in the Cosmos was not pleased: there was an eclipse of the sun and rumblings of an earthquake. Jesus died and Rose from the Dead three days later, and surprised everyone. No one had ever risen from the dead before, or since then. And he first went to see his mum, Mary. And for the Thai New Year coming in two weeks the belief is the same. We celebrate with a sprinkling of water on the heads of our elders – our mums and grand mums, fathers and grandfathers: asking for Blessing and forgiveness plus we attend a temple ceremony with the Monks to pray for our dead.
These ceremonies flow gently over the children’s heads and really over the heads of us all. They tell us there are no ‘broken halleluiahs’. So I think best to send you a couple pictures. Maybe that’s a good way to say Happy Easter and Happy Thai New Year. These happy faces mask great struggles, disappointments and sadness, but that we should all learn from the children of Klong Toey – learn to enjoy the moment, be grateful and ‘do your best to be the best’ – that’s really all one can ask for….
Klong Toey is like one big broken family. And our kids are brazen and cheeky enough to know what we, the kids can mend that. So every day we dare you to follow us and be joyful.
Eight years ago Master Don Ferguson, founder of the Asia Pacific Taekwondo Academy and Thailand National Open Taekwondo Championship gold medallist, was invited to exhibit his skills at a benefit event for the Mercy Centre. After learning about the children Mercy cares for, he offered to do more: if the children were interested, he and his team would volunteer to teach the children for free. Our kids thought about Master Don’s generous offer for about a half a second. They were definitely interested! On that day, the Martial Arts Life Skills program was born.
Every Sunday afternoon, thirty-five Mercy boys and girls hop into a few vans that take them to their taekwondo lesson. Master Don explains that he hopes the children gain from taekwondo the same things that he did as a kid: the importance of setting goals, tackling new challenges, and embracing structure and discipline. Taekwondo lessons involve much more than martial arts – the children learn the value of concentration and determination. Perhaps most of all they have lots of fun. The instructors constantly remind the students that if they put in effort and work hard, anything is possible.
One beautiful example of this is Miss Bas, a slum orphan who grew up in the care of her Granny before joining our Mercy family.