Heather and Marc were in Thailand last month and visited Mercy Center in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bangkok. This is what they saw. They wrote their visitor postcards separately.
It was staggering to accept the immensity of what this organization does for the neighborhood. They run schools, day care, health care, after school programs, recreation, a hospice, help AIDS patients return to family care, arts & crafts, train women with small business skills like tailoring, operate a credit union where poor people can get 1000 baht ($30) loans instead of from 4000% loan sharks, and care for a thousand orphans.
I met a Down Syndrome man in one of the classrooms. He’s in his 30s and had attended a 3rd grade class for the last 9 years because he likes the teacher. Every day he draws the same picture in art class. A complicated mural of family and town life, exactly as it did the day before. There’s an image burned in his mind of a safe, loving environment that he just needs to get down on paper. Maybe it’s a sign of what Mercy Centre means to the tens of thousands of people it has served over the decades, many of whom now serve it as teachers, volunteers, and patrons who send their children here. I wish I could ask them all to write something about what this place means. I'll do my best to write on their behalf.
“Our goal is child protection. We do as much as we can to keep every child with the family,” John Pradorr explained.
It is always complicated. A child’s story can take a while to explain. John passed one child in the hall. She was a daughter of another woman who was in the hospice/health recovery ward. The mother had been raped by her father who gave her AIDS, and later that year she developed schizophrenia. The trauma and dementia left her only vaguely aware that she had a child. She is just one of thousands helped by Mercy Centre. But these services require outside funding.
John explained, “We ask the parents for 10 baht a day to send their children here, but that is just a nominal fee to get the family to take the child’s schooling seriously. In truth, over 500 of our 1000+ families cannot even pay 10 baht a day (30 cents).”
Being a longstanding part of the community means that Mercy Center can better achieve it's mission of child protection.
“Recently," John said, "we had triplets who stopped coming. Their teacher (also a graduate of our schools 30 years ago) went knocking on the neighbors’ doors to ask about it. She learned that the mother was dead and the father, an alcoholic, was looking to sell his triplets. They would fetch a high price as beggars.”
“How could anyone pass three identical twins begging on the street together?”
I began to think about it as a real life slumdog millionaire situation.
“Anyway, we negotiated with the father, and for a prize of a case of whiskey, we were able to rescue the children back to a safe environment where they could be nurtured and learn. Most of the time, we continue to work with the families to eventually place our children back with them or a relative. It is important that children grow up knowing the love of a parent figure and not get institutionalized."
"The villages that Mercy Centre serves are some of the poorest parts of Bangkok, and one doesn't even want to think about where their students would be today without them. The teachers and support staff at Mercy Centre go above and beyond to give children a high-quality education and keep them in school. Many of the teachers went to Mercy Centre as children and now want to give back, demonstrating what an impact it had on their lives. Arts and music education are included here, even though the funds could easily be put elsewhere. The Mercy Centre also claims that it won’t turn children away, an indicator of just how committed they are to serving their community. It was a pleasure and honor to visit this organization.
After visiting, Marc and Heather both gave to support this organization.