This morning over 300 slum kids, ages three to seven, battled for victory in their first ever team competition during our Mercy Kindergarten Sports Day. The kids were divided into two teams – The Pink and The Blue – in contests that ranged from relay races and musical-chairs to tug-of-war face-offs. The cheers and chants were deafening!
The only glitch of the day happened during the relay races because both The Pink and The Blue had a bit of trouble passing the batons to their teammates. After several false starts, The Pink eventually won. The Blue surged back, though, in the tug of war; and both teams earned top honors in musical chairs. The contests ended with each kindergarten student receiving a victory medal, a present, and an ice cream cone: a lovely first lesson in the joys of camaraderie.
Then all the children returned to their classrooms to take a well-earned afternoon nap. Photo gallery here.
Most people don’t go out of their way to visit our patch in the slums, known as “70 Rai,” between the port and a spaghetti bowl of highway on-and-off ramps.
Taxi drivers tend to refuse fares to 70 Rai. They say it’s not worth the risk.
It’s true, 70 Rai has earned its reputation as a nexus of drugs and crime the hard way – by having more than its fair share of both. But it’s also true that during the day and much of the night, Moms, Grandmas, and kids rule the streets. Photos by Yooni Kim. Visit the gallery here.
It’s a beautiful day for street kids when they can have as much fun as possible without any fears.
Last week over sixty kids of all ages joined in our end-of-year Street Kid Party at Mercy Centre.
The train station kids joined the party in large numbers, followed by the Lumpini Park kids and the kids who live under bridges (many from Rama III bridge in particular). The kids who sell garlands on street corners came with one of our social workers. Street kids joined us from as far away as Samut Prakan. And there were babies and toddlers, too – the offspring of teenage street couples – who arrived in tow with their young moms and dads.
Preparations for the party began earlier that same morning when we took the children to a large open air market, gave them five hundred baht each, and told them they could buy whatever clothes they wanted. No surprises here: almost every kid bought new blue jeans and t-shirts: the boys selected the coolest patterned t-shirts – mostly black, emblazoned with nonsensical English words – while the girls went for soft colors with flowers and hearts. The boys bought baseball caps; the girls, lipstick.
The kids felt confident, proud, ready to celebrate, and happy to have a day dedicated just for themselves in a safe place, where they could play hard without worries and feast on their favorite street food until they were full. (We hired street vendors to cook anything they wanted for free.) Nobody was going to arrest these kids at Mercy Centre. Nobody was going to hassle them. Nobody was going to pick on them or beat them up or take their money.
A few of the highlights:
First came warm greetings and New Year’s wishes from our social workers and representatives of other child welfare organizations as well as the Hualamphong train station police. All of us asked the children to call or visit us whenever they were in danger or needed our help in any way. We told them we would always be here to protect them on the streets and in our shelters.
Father Joe urged the kids to have as much fun as possible throughout the day and to prepare for a New Year filled with hope and joy. He pantomimed carrying a large sack of rocks, which represented the anger they may feel for their families, the police, and all the injustice in their lives. And he urged them to throw the sack away; to relieve themselves of the burden of their anger; and to embrace every day fresh and hopeful, with friends who care for them.
The kids understood and agreed to try.
Then came the games and festivities!
Kids were divided into teams and competed for glory in three-legged sack races, tug-of-war face-offs, balloon tosses, and other contests requiring camaraderie and companionship.
We are not sure which team won; we aren’t even sure if anyone kept count. But we are quite certain that each contestant came out a winner for the day.
But just to make sure… we had prize drawings that included gifts for every kid who joined in the party. Every child went home (“home” being a make-shift living space under a bridge, in an abandoned building or on the street) with a New Year gift.
We will continue looking out for our children on the streets and protecting them as best we can throughout the New Year. These children are always welcome to come live with us at Mercy and are always a part of our extended Mercy family. (More photos of the party - visit our gallery here.)