It’s unusually cloudy when I visit father. Joe Thotsaphon a fellow brother who lives in Kek Noi, in the Norther part of Thailand. His village count almost 15,000 people who belong to the same ethnic group called Hmong. In the past they were nomads, they use to move in the mountains of the South-East Asia, later the Thai government forced them to live in the same place in order to prevent forest destruction.
The Hmong people have Thai citizenship, but they do not recognize themselves neither in the Thai traditions and, sometime, nor in Thai law. They have their own language and lifestyle heavily influenced by the idea of freedom and personal independence. Team work is very difficult for them who prefer a family based organization because much more hierarchical and where roles and competences are very clear and therefore easier to manage.
Father Joe is waiting for me at the parish where he is busy building a greenhouse for the children needs of vegetables. I asked him to spend some time with kids he take care of in order to understand his stunning experience called “Holy Mary of Perpetual Help Formation Center”. “The name of this center, build 25 years ago, can mislead us – he tells me immediately – because our experience has been evolving very much in the last few years”. Fr. … the Center founder, was inspired by the Thai Buddhist way of formation. The monks welcome children at the temple where they can go to school and receive a religious formation in order to become teachers and leaders in the village they belong.
The Mary of Perpetual Help Formation Center still pursue this aim, but the people’s life has dramatically changed in the last decades together with the needs of the children. In the past the Hmong people use to live in mountainous remote areas, gathered in family based groups. The children were a great part of the population and their education and care were untrusted to the community. The maternal or paternal relationship were not so significant because the kids, often, use to live with relatives. Nowadays the Hmong people have a sedentary lifestyle, they live in the same village and many of them are no more farmers, but they work in the city. The family based organization is dismantled and the children are among the members of the group who suffer more.
“The parents or, sometime, grandparents come to see me and ask me to welcome their kids at the Center and to send them to school – father. Joe tells me –, I cannot turn down their request. The facilities at the parish allow me to welcome around 30 children and we are always full. This year we have 32 kids coming from many of our villages”. Fr. Joe’s experience is really moving. “One day – he said – a boy came to the parish, maybe attracted by the children playing joyfully at the playground, he went around, he had lunch with us and after the meal he asked me to come and live at the Center where he could eat enough and go to school regularly”.
The kids allowed to live at the Center should be at least 10 years old, they should be able to take care of themselves, at least for their basic needs, but some mouths ago father Joe went to a village and he met a four years old child, his mother works in Bangkok, is father has never showed up, his grandmother is too old and too poor to take care of him. “I made and exception – he said – I could not leave this child in these conditions. It’s not easy for us at the Center, the needs are many and we have neither qualified personnel nor volunteers to help us, but when I see the kids happy and I hear them say that life at the Center is better than at home I am encouraged and I realize that I cannot give up”
The Center addresses to the immediate needs of the children: food, school, basic formation, because the resources are limited, but the education standard is effective. Father Joe use a simple method, based on Asian culture and the way of life at the Hmong villages, the key work in his formation approach is responsibility. When a child moves to the Center he/she has to realize that the new place is his/her home, his/her family each one is called to do his/her best in cleaning the house, preparing the meal, studying, the kids are all brothers and sisters and they have to take care of each other. In order to fill the lack of love the children experienced at home and develop in them a deep sense of loving care, father Joe decided to provide a little pig to each one of the children. He buys it, but the kids have to take care of it, they have to feed it, clean it, cure it when it’s sick and this strategy makes miracles on the children heart and attitude.
Father Joe has not Master in Education Sciences degree, but he has a great heart and with his commitment he can give joy and hope to the children that live in his Center. He is well aware that the future of these kids won’t be very bright, they won’t have brilliant careers and maybe they will not cover important position in the society, but he realizes that if they can find some human touch, if they understand the value of compassion and care for others they will be well equipped in order to face the challenges of life.