Our schools follow the Thai national kindergarten curriculum; and our school children learn to read, write, count, play, dance, say nice words, fight germs, and sing the old songs, the same ones our mothers and grandmothers taught us when we were young.
Our daily school fees -10 baht (30 baht = approx.US $1) per student - cover just a small fraction of the real costs to operate our schools. Although this 10 baht fee does not come close to covering expences, it empowers the parents and guardians to take ownership of their neighborhood school and value their children's education.
The daily school fee is waived for over 20% of our students - those whose parents and guardians are destitute.
One in five children who enters our schools is malnourished. All children receive a nutritious hot lunch, protein snacks, fruit and milk every school day.
In recent years we have formally handed over 11 Mercy preschools to their slum communities. These long-standing schools have helped to strengthen the surrounding communities to the point where the community leaders and parents can now operate their own schools themselves without our daily assistance. We remain as advisors to these schools and provide counsel and resources whenever needed.
In the past 40 years, over 40,000 poor children have graduated from our kindergartens with a head start as they enter government primary schools.
Last week our Mercy children, along with our kindergarten students, our staff, and neighbors, invited the monks from our local temple Wat Saphan to celebrate Mother's Day together as a community. Our children gave alms; the monks gave blessings, and we stood together in praise of all the goodness our moms bring to our beloved Klong Toey. Photos by Guillaume Megevand. Photo gallery here.
Dance and music help heal our Mercy children. Because our children were abandoned, used, and abused before coming to Mercy, many had lost their way. They forgot, or couldn't feel, what it means to be kids and to embrace each new day with hope and joy. Our Classical Music and Dance Program helps them express themselves and find their way back to being children once again. Plus it's just plain old good fun!Photo gallery here.
by Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R. A woman who grew up experiencing the worst of urban life still held to a fantasy of one day having a 'proper' wedding and despite staggering odds against her she found out that there is always room for hope.
Published August 5, 2012, Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum
Ever since she was 11 and on the streets, Noi had always dreamed she would get married in the proper style, with a dowry, a ring and a bridesmaid. Her husband would have a real job and talk nice and love her. After she met the right man she promised herself that she would make it happen, and she wanted it even more after her two children were born. Her husband Somchai, also street-raised, always had the same response when she told him of her matrimonial dreams: "Why not?" But that was as far as it went.
So it became yesterday's dream. Somchai was a good husband and a good father nonetheless and they were all pretty happy living in their Pattaya home.
But several weeks ago she showed up at our door, her daughter clinging to her, crying, and her son, barefoot, sniffling, nose running, with hiccups from crying so hard. Noi had whomped his bottom back at the bus station where he left his flip-flops, saying: "Five years old is too old to forget your flip-flops."
Published by Heavenlake Press. You can purchase Fr. Joe's new book here. A note from the publisher:
The Open Gate of Mercy is a collection of real-life stories of the poorest of the poor who share our City of Angels. We have seen many of them on Bangkok streets, but we often pass them by without taking any serious thought about who they are.
School-aged children trying to sell flower garlands we try to ignore when we are stuck in our car in a traffic jam. Old women and men hastily pushing their junk carts trying to quickly cross a busy road. Street vendors who sell us fruits, lunches, snacks, t- shirts, knick-knacks, etc. Who are they? Where do they come from? What are their families like? What happiness, sorrows, hopes or fears occupy them in their lives? The answers to these questions most of us are blissfully unaware.
In nearly 40 individual stories, Father tells us about these people that we see but never really know. The stories Father Joes recounts also tell us about their families and their community, and others like them whom we ordinarily never have any chance to meet. Each story stretches our worldview and transports us to a universe where we witness the daily lives of slum residents. Father Joe guides us on a journey through the heart of a community that he’s devoted most of his life in serving. Always with love and respect, he shows us that in spite of a life devoid of privilege, everyone possesses an inner dignity.
About the author
Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R., has ministered to the poor in Bangkok’s slums for over 40 years. As the Parish Priest of the Catholic community, he has lived alongside the poor residents around the city’s main slaughterhouse in Klong Toey slums—which is how he became known as “The Slaughterhouse Priest.”
Fr. Joe co-founded the Human Development Foundation - Mercy Centre, a community-based organization dedicated to strengthening the poorest slum communities of all religions and protecting and educating their most vulnerable children.
Her Royal Highness Princess Srirasmi visited our children this week to officially open the new Mercy Cultural Learning Centre, located on our Mercy farm in Samut Prakan Province.
The Mercy farm is home to twenty of our older Mercy boys, who plant, tend, and harvest the fields before and after school every day. As our boys learn how to farm the land, they are simultaneously gaining skills, confidence, self-esteem, and a better understanding of the world around them. Previously, most of these children felt they had never accomplished anything. They had been abused, abandoned to the streets, and told they were useless. Life on the farm is turning their lives around.
The new Cultural Learning Centre, built as a traditional Thai sala, is an open-air meeting and teaching centre for all group visits to the farm – a place where teachers and professors of agriculture give our boys lessons in sustainable and organic farming; and where, in turn, our boys teach what they’ve learned to their neighbors, school classmates, and other school groups who visit on fieldtrips.
Princess Srirasmi felt the joy of our children, and expressed her hope that our farm and new Cultural Learning Centre thrive, along with our Mercy children, long into the future.
Photo above, Princess Srirasmi and a Mercy child tend to the trees we planted in honor of her visit. Photo above by Jim Coyne; photo below, Starbucks (Thailand). Photo gallery here.