Tuesday and Wednesday 427 children graduated Mercy’s kindergartens. 427 children that now can sing songs in English; they can brush their teeth and cut with scissors. They are excellent on walking on a straight line, and they can recite the Thai alphabet, which is 44 symbols long!!
This is the happiest day of their lives. And for us too. We, standing on the side of the stage – out of the lime light – but we also, proud as proud can be. And their parents. Especially the single mums and grannies, and granddads, who have struggled against all odds, fought off the poverty and loneliness: the betrayal, the false promises, and raised their children and grandchildren “on their own”. What unbelievable success stories!! Four hundred and twenty seven Kindergarten three graduates. Dressed formally in caps and gowns.
For 3 years they have woken up in the morning, showered, put on their school uniform (or something comfortable if they can’t afford one, as we are not so picky on that). Then they skip along, some always run in excitement to be at school by 8AM, all set for singing the national anthem, raising the Thai flag and do some morning exercise.
The new graduates from these shack slum kindergartens. Now alumni. The Pride of 23 slums. These marvellous, “never give up kids” – did it all themselves.
These fabulous slum kids who have “huffed and puffed and walked and crawled and scrapped” through three years of school, marched in solemn procession. Many cry the first couple of weeks at school – no wonder, never been away from mummy or grandma or auntie a whole day – that’s 7 hours with 20 other children, can be kinda scary. But many end their school days crying when they are leaving. Their teachers have taught them invaluable lessons in how to protect themselves, how to become an individual and how to be responsible. And they have formed friendships with kids “just like themselves”
– the Mercy preschools are filled with children from broken homes, that try their best, don’t always succeed but keep reciting ‘go to school, go to school, go to school’. 3 years with other kids that sometimes have to get to school alone because mummy ran away, grandma doesn’t have a watch or uncle is drunk. But that’s ok, we don’t judge. Our job is to provide care and nurturing in a safe and warm environment.
Some would call it a home away from home, and that’s nice – we try to fill in the gaps where the broken home comes short – a true partnership.
427 kindergarten graduates in robes and caps hearing their names called out, walking one by one to the dais to receive their Diploma. A valuable and most necessary document in modern Bangkok for entering first grade.
A document to show that 427 kids are prepared with the right tools and skills to tackle their next big adventure in life – Grade 1 – that’s the big kids’ school – with bigger classrooms, teachers that don’t know where they come from, don’t know the struggles they might face at home. But the Mercy teachers are always there and the kids know that. If they are being bullied by the big kids or they don’t understand a school assignment they know they can visit their kindergarten. We never forget you and every day we pray for your success in life, both the small ones like remembering that its important to wear socks to school and the big ones like passing an exam.
Because once you have graduated a Mercy school you are always a part of the Mercy family.
And the chant rings down the halls of time – for 45 years now: Go to School. Go to School. Go to School.
Congratulations to each and every one of you!
Please visit https://www.facebook.com/mercycentre/?fref=ts for more glorious pictures from the big day!
Just some ‘goings on’ – Our team was here at 5 a.m. this morning to ready itself to take 40 of our senior citizens to ‘Make Merit’ (indulgences) at three well known Buddhist Temples in the outskirts of Bangkok. The bus is leaving at 7:30 a.m. and should return about 6 p.m. (depending on the traffic) You know… on pilgrimage
Recently, Bangkok city was said to have the most terrible traffic of any city in the world. Maybe that’s true – at least it feels like that some time.
And yesterday the International Rugby team from New Zealand came to visit our kids. What a glorious day and the kids were ecstatic and could not get over how big and strong the players were. The team manager gave us a donation from each member of the team, plus a signed ‘football’ and ‘jersey’ - personally signed by each member of the team… and these of course are true treasures. And the beginning of what we hope in the future one of our kids will get a scholarship to the Bangkok Rugby academy here in Bangkok.
And I didn’t tell you that a whole troop of international bikers came to visit, on their impressive Harley Davidsons with noise and smoke and all – and gave a donation, and ice cream to the kids and gave everyone a ride up and down the street on their’ choppers’ - and also some of the staff. An Amazing day for the kids – truly great guys.
And in the Mogan South, we have a nine year old girl who was born with a growth under her tongue and of course difficulty in eating and tasting and swallowing but most of all can’t speak clearly – so the other kids in school make fun of her, plus she already has a “Mogan” accent and afraid to go to school. Yesterday, after we struggled to get all kinds of special permission to leave the province where she lives on the Island, and go to a large Government Provincial hospital for an operation to remove the growth (from birth) about 150 kilometers away - and we had permission for her mum to go along also who doesn’t speak much Thai, so one of our team traveled with them.
Right now her mouth is a bit sore and even though the doctors could not operate in fear of her loosing ability to taste, she got some strong injections and medicine to kill the bacteria and hopefully it will shrink the growth.
No one really has had permission to live there. Not even from the beginning. Nearly 70 years ago, it wasn’t that important. What was important was coolie labour in the Klong Toey Port and butchers in the slaughter house.
Let them live as they may: Helter-skelter. So they built clap-trap wooden shacks. Pirated municipal water and electricity. And last week, all these years later, those wooden shacks caught fire.
But those shacks are home. Babies born there, old folks have died there. Children grew up in, lived above and around the pig, cattle holding pens. Poor but beloved. Sacred.
Twelve days ago today, it burned to the ground. Nothing left.
Two city blocks wide & long: 51 old wood shacks & 76 families. Our homes. Yes, as squatters: no legal right to the land, except we have butchered pork and cattle for the city – 3,500 a night, and carried produce on our backs, up and down ship gang-planks now for 60 plus years. We fought for municipal water at normal prices and finally ‘won the battle of meters’ (to have our own meter) but still have one big water meter to share Bangkok city water.
We won’t leave; where would we go – This is home. And we are re-building as fast as we can. We have cleared most of the burnt scrap. We have sifted through the burnt to find our sacred statues.
WE are doing most of the clearing burnt scrap and re-building ourselves. We aren’t the best carpenters, but the work has to be done.
With strings of different colors and a single piece of paper with your name on it – that’s how to mark the spot where your shack once stood – slum style. And every neighbor respects that, understands what these basic symbols imply.
Some have been extra lucky and got a tent – a tent on top of burned wood and unsafe ground – gives you protection and you claim your turf.
We are using your money for that. Plus school uniforms for 41 school children, plus pots and pans, plus houses for a couple of our teachers who lost everything, plus shacks for elderly ladies with no source of income and certainly no money to re-build. And on and on. Time is of the essence and we won’t rest before everyone is back in the community.
Plus the rains are coming – the rainy monsoon season.
The ‘new houses’ might not look like much high class, but they are solid and liveable.
And everyone is participating, everyone is involved. The women take care of the donation box (so every coin is counted) another group prepare the food. The men take turns at guard duty at night, so that no stranger comes to wander around. The teachers come each morning to collect the children for school.
Thank you - Prayers as always fr. joe.