About two thousand years ago that raggedy handful of Jerusalem street kids saw it all happen. The bad guys ordered their foreign occupying forces to capture him and execute Blessed Mary’s Son. But they also made it look legal so these bad guys could get away with it and wouldn’t have to go to prison. Lots of people were shouting to get him up the hill for execution fast.
The kids whispered among themselves: “That guy carrying the cross with thorns stuck on his head, wearing the purple cloak is Jesus the Holy One." The scavenger dogs were barking, but strangely not barking at Jesus.
Last week we held our liveliest, happiest, and certainly most colorful celebration of the year. Our entire Mercy Centre was festooned with balloons, flowers, toys and stuffed animals. To say it was a joyous day would be an understatement. In fact, it was riotously crazy fun! It was Graduation Day for the children who attend our 23 preschools spread across Bangkok’s poorest communities. Amid glorious pomp and circumstance, over 500 poor children donned caps and gowns and received their diplomas; and in a rousing speech that brought all the children to their feet with fists in the air and smiles on their faces, Fr. Joe urged our young scholars, no matter what happens in the future, to stay in school! All photos by Ric Gazarian.
The Irish Ambassador to Thailand HE Brendan Rogers brought the Irish community of Bangkok together last week in an event that recognized and honored Father Joe’s 40 years of community service as co-founder of our Mercy Centre. It was a beautifully orchestrated informal celebration, (beautiful – both spiritually and musically) hosted by the Dubliner Bar in Bangkok.
In his speech, Ambassador Rogers spoke of Fr. Joe’s life-long commitment to protecting and educating the poorest, most marginalized Thai children. Pictured above, Fr. Joe, beside Ambassador Rogers, gives thanks to everyone in the community who has supported his foundation over the years. Photo below: an incredibly gifted ensemble of Irish musicians performed for the event – an ensemble that included Mick Moloney, Terry McBroom, Donie Carroll, and Brian Taheny.
Born in a shack, half-blind and fearless, but there's still honour in a wasteland child.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
It’s a story that simply needs to be told. Sai Chon, the half-blind, no-fear, ex-rubbish dump kid. He’s moving up the social ladder. “Shack-born” in a city rubbish dump, where he spent his early years, he's now only a part-time street kid.
He’s done well in life so far. A sixth grade graduate of the Blind School, he can read and write braille, but not brilliantly. He admits to being a bit lazy in lessons, since he can still see partially out of his left eye.
Three months in detention for vagrancy and loitering in a public place (ie, begging) is unfair, he said. He told them he didn’t do anything wrong. But the uniforms wouldn’t listen. To them simply hanging around is vagrancy and that breaks the penal code. They said three months and that was that.
We opened four new schools in just the past few months!
This announcement may not seem like groundbreaking Mercy Centre news. After all, we currently operate 23 preschools and have opened and operated well over 50 schools at one time or another in the past 40 years.
But these new schools are a big deal to the kids who are attending.
Our new students are construction camp kids, ages 3 to 12. They move around a lot with their parents, from one construction project to the next. So they don’t get many chances to learn to read and write and count and play and make new friends. Our schools may be “it”: their one and only chance in life.
Today at Mercy Centre we celebrated the birthday of Galong, our oldest Mercy boy. Born with a type of Downs' Syndrome and abandoned to the streets in his youth, he was found by our social workers over twenty years ago near the Pratunam Market, and has been living with us as an older brother to our younger boys ever since. When we found him, he had no given name, so we named him "Galong," a Thai bird without a nest. And he had no documentation, so we made Valentine's Day his birthday - because that is what he is about: absolute love and joy. We don't know his exact age, so we approximate. On Valentine's Day, Galong celebrates his 49th birthday. Happy Galong's Day, everyone!
What a difference a bowl of rice makes! What joy a toy brings to a child in our shelters!
Gifts-in-kind make a huge difference in our ability to protect and shelter poor abandoned and orphaned children here in our Mercy Centre. Such gifts especially impact the operation of our 23 kindergartens and schools for children living in construction worker camps. We rely on gifts-in-kind in everything we are trying to do.
A beautiful example: foodpanda, a restaurant delivery service, asked its customers to select gifts for Mercy during their 12 Days of Christmas “Light Up a Soul” charity campaign. The results: almost a ton of the most important stuff we need – from rice and cooking oil to toys and stationery.
Gifts-in-kind help lower our operating expenses in the care of our children, our HIV/AIDS patients, the street children we protect daily, and our poorest neighbors in the slums. They allow us to reach out further to support the poorest communities that government ministries and non-government organizations either ignore or don't even know exist.
Please note: Because of customs duties, we cannot accept gifts-in-kind from abroad. However, if you live in Thailand, there may be no better way for you to help those who need our help the most. Photos above and below: Mercy Kids with Panda, staff, Fr. Joe Maier, and foodpanda MD Alexander Felde.