Published July 10, The Guardian - Global Development Professsionals Network. Complete article and text here. Usanee Janngeon writes about the evolution of the Human Development Foundation-Mercy Centre's HIV/AIDS Program - from a "dumping ground for the dying" to offering all-inclusive home-based care. Photo above: Mercy Centre staff training Mae Tao clinic staff in community-based homecare.
For over 10 years, the Human Development Foundation – Mercy Centre's Aids hospice was the first, largest and only free Aids hospice in Bangkok, Thailand. At first, Mercy was known as a dumping ground for dying people. Then we changed our general policy and, apart from the truly indigent, only accepted patients with their relatives' involvement. Over the years as the treatments improved, our hospice became a place of hope for the future where people could recover and go back to the community and their family.
We learned that HIV is not about one person, it's about the whole family. We created three-way partnerships between our hospice staff, patients and their families. We asked the families to share in the hospice care of their family members, and in return, we provided counselling to the families and taught them home-care skills. The patients also agreed that they would contribute to the maintenance of the hospice as much as they were able to.
It often took several months of counselling, sometimes even years, to unite families and patients and bring them home. It was rarely easy. As our home-care programme expanded, we were able to close our hospice in 2012 and now all our Aids care is done in the community.
Narisaraporn Asipong builds a sense of belonging for Saphan Phut street kids
This article, focusing on one of our street social workers, was published in the Bangkok Post, Life Section, May 21, 2013
by Napamon Roongwitoo
The first thing that greets an outsider who steps into the small patch of garden under Saphan Phut (Memorial Bridge) is a strong stench of urine. Male underwear is strewn carelessly on the ground, while a toddler plays by himself - not in a crib, but in a battered foam box. There is no roof. There is no toilet. There is no furniture except for a few floor mats.
This is what 60 lives call home, and it is the only home they know.
Narisaraporn Asipong, known affectionately by her students as Khru Nang, has spent the majority of her time with these "homeless kids" for 12 years. With a determination to make a difference to society, she left her home in Si Sa Ket and travelled to Bangkok to join the Mercy Center, working as a volunteer teacher for street children around Saphan Phut.
Shortly after the 2004 tsunami, we began serving a destitute ethnic Moken community living on Koh Lao, an island just off the coast of Ranong. When we first encountered this sea gypsy community, Fr. Joe notes, “They were literally starving to death. There was nothing to eat. One in five women died in childbirth. The children had no energy to run or play. They didn't even recognize basic foods such as bananas. There was no concept of how they should live on dry land.."
We wish to share an article written by Irish journalist Patrick Butler about his recent vist to Koh Lao. The Nov. 26 article, published in the Irish newspaper, The Daily Business Post, appears on this link.
This is the second recent news article about our work with the Moken – the ethnic Sea Gypsies – on Koh Lao, an island in Ranong Province. Both articles focus on the plight of these poor island villagers who have lost much of their past and are lost in the present. We are doing for the Mokan what we have always done for the poorest of the poor – we are sending their children to school and taking care of the moms and grandmoms. In addition, because of their precarious legal status in Thailand, we are working in myriad ways with the entire village, together with the local provincial government, to help these poor seafarers gain recognition and status as permanent Thai residents. Please read the articles at your leisure (the earlier one is posted below), and help if you can. Many thanks, as always, for all your support.
Prayers, Fr. Joe
Moken Gypsies Find Themselves at Sea in the Modern WorldSydney Morning Herald and The Age, May 22, 2012 (For slide show with commentary from Fr. Joe, please visit here. Photo above by Jim Coyne.)
Article by Lindsay Murdoch
They live in stilted shacks on a mudflat above piles of oyster shells, broken glass and rubbish, their nomadic days on the seas of south-east Asia gone forever.
Liya Pramongkit, an elder and midwife of Thailand's largest group of Moken-speaking sea gypsies, saw her people on the small island of Koh Lao dying at the rate of one a week, many of them starving mothers and babies.
"We have lost our traditional way of life as our children no longer hear the stories that have been handed down by our ancestors," Liya says, her deeply lined face showing the hardship the Moken have suffered since they were forced to leave their seafaring lives, where the only things that mattered were the tides, the fish, the storms, the moon and the sea spirits.
"Before, when we lived and died on the sea, life was much better," she says.
More than three decades working in Bangkok's slums did not prepare Catholic priest Joe Maier for what he saw on Koh Lao when he made his first 30-minute boat ride here from the Thai fishing port of Ranong, in south-west Thailand, four years ago.
"The people were literally starving to death, trapped between the modern world and the Moken world," Father Maier says. "I have never seen people as poor.
Note: This article is about a community of sea gypsies in Ranong Province. We have been working together with these poor island villagers since the tsunami. Link to full text and photos here. Text only - below. Photo above by Chawalit Kumsatok.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday, May 13, Spectrum Section
By Craig Skehan
Village elder and midwife Liya Pramongkit, skin brown and furrowed as a walnut, spent her early life living as a nomad aboard handcrafted wooden boats called kabang. They were fashioned from giant rainforest logs; planking held together with vines.
The kabang symbolised the human form and elements of the boat were named after body parts such as the stomach and ribs. All around them were the spirits of the sea. Whole families once lived on kabang, often for months at a time. A thatched roof would provide only partial protection from the weather.
Ms Liya still sings a fittingly haunting Moken lullaby about a hungry child. So many Moken children have gone hungry, not least in recent years, as their parents' subsistence way of life has ebbed away.
There was the devastating 2004 tsunami, greater enforcement of the arbitrary maritime Myanmar "border" with Thailand and the commercial depletion of marine life. Many children have died from malnutrition and disease.
If there are sea spirits watching over the Moken, they must be weeping.
We wish to share with you a feature article about Fr. Joe and Mercy Centre recently published in Ireland’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. You can view the article here. Please be a little patient – it may take a minute to download.
Thank you all, as always, for your friendship and support.
Usanee and the Mercy Teams