A founding member and current advisor of our HIV/AIDS homecare and outreach teams, Khun Apiwat Gwangkaew was recently named President of the national Thai Network + (People Living with AIDS).
The Thai Network + is a nationwide organization comprising hundreds of local and regional groups advocating for the rights of PLWA. The Network creates national platforms, based on the voices of those living with AIDS, on issues ranging from national drug licensing and universal drug access to grassroots education and outreach. Apiwat first came to Mercy as a hospice patient and has a remarkable story to tell. In his own words:
"When I was a child, my parents could not take care of me. I was placed with a foster family. The foster family did love me but I missed the warmth that comes from my own family.
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Years ago now, maybe 11, his Granny died just after a terrible slum fire. That horrible night, teenager Gee carried Granny out of their shack and watched it burn.
They lost everything. Even Granny's antique betel nut chewing box. With no home, living "make-shift" on the street, Granny died only two days later. For roust-about young Gee, she was his only family.
He'd dropped out of school and grown up mostly alone in the slums and alleyways of Klong Toey. He spent some time with us here at the Mercy Centre, where he went to school for a while.
Once again from Bangkok, "after the present troubles"…
All is quiet. The curfew is slowly going away. I believe Saturday p.m. will be the final night. Today, Thursday, as I write this, curfew is from Midnight till Four a.m. The first night, five folks tried to torch different parts of our Klong Toey Slum, one by dropping burning material from the expressway above the slum. All were doused in minutes. Two of the arsonists were 14-year-old kids who had been given a handful of money to throw a petrol bottle bomb anywhere they could, to burn the slum, and if they succeeded, they would get more cash.
Thank you for your so many prayers and emails. As I write this, Bangkok is burning, filled with smoke of burning buildings and burning petrol-doused auto tires. That terrible acrid smoke; one hospital had to evacuate all their patients as the smoke was literally killing them. Even in ICU - coming through the air con.
Several buildings - department stores, banks are scorched and some on fire. The apparent leaders of the protesters (6) surrendered this early afternoon as the army tanks tore down their bamboo-tire barricades. It unleashed the whirlwind. Marauders in small bands on motorcycles carrying beer bottle fire bombs (filled with petrol) torching the city - anywhere they can. Tonight is not going to be pleasant.
Even though our Mercy Centre is located in the middle of Bangkok's largest, most densely populated slum community, our home often feels like it's far away from the city - as if we were living in a traditional Thai rural village. And this feeling always gets even stronger during Thai holidays. On April 9, we celebrated the Thai New Year - Songkran - at Mercy Center the same way we always do - as a village. The monks from our local temple and the elderly poor from 20 surrounding slum communities joined our staff and children in prayers, blessings, songs, a few old saucy dances, and a wonderful feast. To make sure everyone could attend, we held our Songkran festival a few days early, which, as it turned out, was fortunate. Mounting protests and a bloody confrontation on the following day forced the government and most residents to cancel or alter their festivities. Photo by Yoonki Kim
Drawing by Ali
In the last few weeks, as Thailand has edged closer and closer toward political and social chaos, we received many calls and e-mails from friends expressing their concern for our children. Thank you so much!
This week everything feels more hopeful. Protesters still occupy the shopping district, fortifying their perimeters with walls of gasoline-soaked tires and sharpened bamboo stakes. The army is still protecting the financial district. But now both sides are talking about withdrawing from their positions. We hope and pray for peace.
Whatever happens, we want all our friends to know that life goes on as always at our Mercy Centre, that we worry about our country and our future, but our focus every second of every day remains on the lives of poor, vulnerable children living on the streets and in slum shacks throughout Bangkok. Our street outreach teams continue to visit and protect children on their daily rounds. Moms and grandmoms still come to Mercy with family emergencies. They rhythms of life on the street and at Mercy remain the same. We are still a big family surrounded by neighbors we know and love.
Since January, 10 new children have joined our Mercy family. Eight of these children (7 boys and 1 girl – Pleam, Praem, Dton, Eh-eh, Than, Phan, Kee-nu, and Mint) lived many years in a local home for children with AIDS - The Kevorkian Home – which recently closed. Two other children, both girls – Ploy, age 5, and Pookie, age 13 - are from the streets.