HUMAN DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION MERCY CENTER: Helping the Poor in Bangkok

by trenzpruca

Klong-Toey Market, Bangkok

Klong-Toey Market, Bangkok (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among the many community organizations providing services to the poor and the residents of informal communities in Bangkok, I am especially fond of the HDF Mercy Center. Begun in 1973 with the opening the first Mercy School in the Slaughterhouse neighborhood within the dismal Klong Toey slum in Bangkok,

Beginnings:

HDF Mercy Center began in the Slaughterhouse area of Klong Toey, Bangkok’s most notorious slum. It was the brainchild of Father Joseph Maier and Sister Maria Chantavarodom. Fr. Joe, as he is affectionately called, was the parish priest for the Catholics that butchered the pigs in the district. Sister Maria began teaching the children of the Slaughterhouse at a school she set up in a seldom used holding pen for the pigs. According to Fr. Joe,

“In its early days, almost fifty years ago, the Slaughterhouse [in 70 Rai] actually was a safe and fairly healthy place to live. … Seven years ago, it all began to unravel. Authorities decided that the old method of butchering pigs, the way we had been doing it for generations, was not hygienic, and that it was time to move the Slaughterhouse. No work meant no cash for food. … The Slaughterhouse residents were told they would soon have to leave, that they were being evicted from the homes and shacks that their families had homesteaded for over fifty years — that they had no rights. … Authorities tore down the pigpens and cemented them over as a massive parking area for the trucks that carry products to and from the adjacent Klong Toey Port. … With the trucks came their drivers seeking drugs, alcohol and temporary female companionship. … The authorities would provide housing in new suburban slums outside of the city, miles and hours away from where they could earn a livelihood…. “ Maier, Fr. Joe. (2005). “Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughterhouse: The Battle for Human Dignity in Bangkok’s Bleakest Slums.” Singapore: Periplus

The HDF Mercy Center website describes these early days best:

Klong Toey slum railway

Klong Toey slum railway (Photo credit: trevorsoh)

“Sr. Maria and Fr. Joe turned a slum shack into a one-baht-per-day preschool for every child in the Slaughter House, children of all religions. No child was turned away. Thus (without saying so or calling itself anything) began The Human Development Foundation. Now, today in 2012, there are twenty-two Mercy Kindergartens with over 2,500 slum children going to school. Alumni of the first Slaughter House kindergarten are teachers, executive secretaries, nurses, taxi drivers, and butchers. Many are now married with their own children attending proper schools. Dead-end, throw-away slaughter house kids no longer.”

Today

Today, the Human Development Foundation and Mercy Centre charity is responsible for thirty-two preschools that have taught more than twenty thousand children how to read and write. it also operates six shelters for abandoned, abused and orphaned children. In addition, it sponsors over 500 of the poorest neighborhood children to attend primary and secondary school as well as 12 children to attend colleges and universities abroad.

The charity provides home-care for the poor for over 500 patients living with

Klong Toey Porter

Klong Toey Porter (Photo credit: Mark Fischer)

AIDS in Bangkok helping them maintain their strength and remain productive members of their family and community. It also provides counseling and free access to medicine to over 10,000 high risk individuals/year

HDF has repaired, renovated, and constructed over 10,000 homes for elderly and indigent and slum communities devastated by fires in Bangkok slums and fostered small business start-ups, emergency low-interest loans and aided the physically disabled to secure employment, and legal benefits.

For those who may want to learn more about HDF Mercy Center or are interested in assisting it in its work I encourage you to go to their website at:http://www.mercycentre.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=1&lang=en

Further Reading about Klong Toey and Fr. Joe

For anyone looking to dig deeper into the world of Bangkok’s slums, in addition to Father Joe’s book mentioned above, “The Gospel of Father Joe: Revolutions and Revelations in the Slums of Bangkok” by Greg Barrett, with a forward by The Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu Archbishop Emeritus is a good place to begin. According to Publisher’s Weekly:

“Barrett, a veteran journalist, records the inspiring work of Catholic priest Joe Maier in Bangkok’s slums. Drawn to service in Thailand on a whim, the misfit American seminary student found a calling among the Thai downtrodden, even living in the slums himself. . . . many of the stories are memorable, from the tragic (street toddlers, happily schooled at Mercy, later dying there of HIV/AIDS, to the triumphant (Mercy graduates who attend college abroad and are able to climb out of poverty.”