By NIST Student Mathilda Strobel with help from the DWBI team
The Mercy Centre is a foundation set up in 1973, devoted to the children of Bangkok’s slums. One of these centres is located in Klong Toey where it is dedicated to taking care of and educating around 60 children of varying ages, living with HIV and AIDS. The disease not only weakens the ones infected, but also stigmatizes them. In the Mercy Centre, however, the house-mothers have created a caring and nurturing environment in which HIV and AIDS is present but not the main focus.
Two years ago a student-led group from NIST – New International School of Thailand – focusing on charity started to work closely with this Mercy Centre in Klong Toey. The group called itself “Dreams We Believe In” (DWBI).
This Christmas, we started early, asking the children already in October to fill out a card with their Christmas wishes. Various members of the NIST community, both students, parents and staff, chose a card and bought the child what he or she wished for. When we arrived at the Mercy Centre on the day of the celebration, we hid the bags with the gifts in the storeroom, saving the best for last.
As there is a mix of children of all ages at the centre, the youngest 15 months, the oldest 17, we divided them into two different age groups with games designed for each. The younger group started off with “Santa Says”, a spinoff of the classic Simon Says. Music freeze and various other quick-paced games took place before the piñatas were brought in.
The children gazed in awe at the large Candy Cane and Christmas tree shaped piñatas bought from Manee Piñatas, a private contractor in Bangkok that kindly donated a third piñata, free of charge. When the piñatas broke, the children rushed forward to grab as much candy as they could; one little boy, maybe three or four years old, got two handfuls.
A few older children wanted to trade with him, to exchange a marshmallow for a small Haribo bag of candy, but he refused and ran away. One of us volunteers helped him, tried to put the candy in his pockets. He was wary at first, but he tolerated the help when he realised we wouldn’t steal it, and asked us to open one of the plastic wrappings so that he could enjoy some of it right away.
Bei Otto and ScanDeli
Thanks to generous donations from two restaurants, Bei Otto and ScanDeli, we had enough food to feed the entire group. Bei Otto, located on Sukhumvit 20, supplied German buns with burgers and sausages, while ScanDeli, located on Sukhumvit Soi 18, donated Swedish Christmas Food.
The house-moms at the Mercy Centre prepared noodles as well as a safety plan in case the children wouldn’t like the European food. At first, the children chose the familiar noodles, but after some encouragement they came to appreciate the other food as well. Before long, the children came back for seconds.
The German burgers, the Swedish meatballs and Christmas ham were especially favoured. On the other hand, the Swedish salmon and herring were less popular, but some brave children tried it. Throughout the meal, classical Christmas songs such as Feliz Navidad and Jingle bells were played; it would not be Christmas without them.
One NIST student volunteer had baked sixty cupcakes with varying frostings and decorations. The children expectantly got one each, and I sneaked a second serving to one of the girls who had previously assisted in plating the food. She smiled at me before going back to her spot on one of the long benches.
“They have been talking about this for weeks” one of the house-mothers told us. “It is fun to see them enjoying themselves.”
Giving of the gifts
When the children were finished eating, they remained seated. An expectant air fell over the group, as “Santa” took his place in front. One after one, he called out the names of the children and gave them their gifts. One touching moment was when a boy, possibly eight or nine, bowed before he received his gift. The children didn’t open the gifts straight away, but watched their friends and classmates receive theirs first.
When the magical moment had passed and all the gifts had been delivered, the unwrapping began. Phon, a girl of thirteen suffering from limited vision, got the hat and dress she wished for. Another boy, got the socks and futsal shoes he had longed for. A teacher greatly involved with DWBI donated two bikes, too small for his own sons.
I sat with one boy as he unwrapped the first of his two gifts. I knew what it was, a t-shirt, and I knew it was what he wished for. He smiled as he pulled it out, but did not unfold it. He looked at the t-shirt; it was from Lee, before trying to push it back into the wrapping. He folded the attached card, but did not open the second present. Instead, he placed them both together with the two extra packs of jellybeans he got into a neat pile. Picking up the pile, he clutched it tightly to his chest and smiled at me.
When I asked him if he was not going to open the second present, he smiled and shook his head. He wanted to savour the moment.
Time to leave
When the time came for us to leave, the atmosphere was almost exuberant. The previously maintained order was gone, and the children had pockets full of candy, presents in their hands and smiles on their faces. A girl of ten, named Phet, had taken one of the piñatas shaped like a Christmas present and put in on her head.
On our way down from the second floor, one of the boys who had received a skateboard lied stomach down on it, arms extended, and rode across the room. I was later told that the skateboard he had wished for on his Christmas card was one of the small ones that you control with your fingers. He never thought it he could get a real one.
And so with everyone happy and Christmas spirit in the air, DWBI took our leave.
Just as we were about to leave, one of the kids ran up to us and said “Come back tomorrow again, yeah?”