Easter spirit shines through children's smiles in slum

As we celebrate the occasion, it's time to appreciate the blessings of youth and reconnect with a time that was all about teddy bears and festive bunnies

She crones that ancient children's lament, ''Auntie of the Moon'', over and over. Eight-year-old Miss Phae can't talk clearly _ only babbles _ and her tongue goes in all different directions. Yet her best friend, nine-year-old Miss Phon understands perfectly when Miss Phae sings, ''Please find me a kind granny for my little sister and a kind granny who loves me too.''

And crippled Momma Shrimp also understands, as do her gaggle of 17 kids (three, four, five and six year olds) whom she watches over. They all chant along, and it's the sound of angels, all singing about the beautiful Auntie Moon who finds a loving granny for abandoned children. Miss Phae improvises sometimes: ''Dear Auntie Moon: please send my little sister some tasty rice and a nice ring _ and a chair for her to sit on, and a cosy bed for her to sleep on and even a pony or an elephant to ride.''

And we all believe Miss Phae's lament is inspired by the Easter Moon, when Jesus rose from the dead, and showed us that, in the end, the bad guys lose and the good guys win.

Maybe, just maybe, this eight-year-old babbling girl is an angel spirit of one of the ancients sent from heaven to us, like one of the saints who give up heaven for a while and come back to Earth for a short time to speak not of doom, but of joy and a better world tomorrow. If you've ever heard her, it's easy to believe that Miss Phae is an ancient angel spirit, a ''keeper of the song''.

At Easter time we journey back through the sacred living history of the world-changing events in the life of Jesus. We teach our children of our faith through stories and legends and by dramas, rituals and ceremonies.

The children are sad when we tell how Jesus had to suffer so much, but happy that after he rose from the dead _ his mum saw him first. But that's all far-away adult stuff. Most of them want to know if Jesus was in kindergarten when he was five. Did he have a school uniform and a backpack? Did his mum help him do his homework and take care of him? Was he scared of the dark?

We here at Mercy Centre are aware that the tears and sorrow of the holy Easter week are with us every week, and so is the joy of rebirth. That's what we try to teach the children. But mostly we try to give them love.

The children are the judges of what kind of job we do. They all really help Miss Phae to be the ''keeper of the song'', and they expect a lot from us adults. They know who they really are.

The deal is this. The children speaking here: We the children take a really risky chance to trust you adults and let you take care of us. We agree if you promise not to hurt us like those other big people did. And we all know that a child's greatest fear is that their mum and dad might abandon them.

And we adults, in our arrogance ask the children to stay with us. Yet we have so little to offer. No land to grow crops on. No home to call your own. But we can give you a new family, of sorts. We can give you some really good slum mums and a dad or two, most of whom have suffered hurts like you when they were small. Plus the friendship of other abandoned children. And teach you its fun to be good.

Most of all, we can give you Easter moments of mercy and tell you about where you were born and your family. And memories that protect you for a lifetime. Beautiful memories of precocious three, four, five and six year olds. Easter moments of teddy bears, who keep watch nightly. Keep you safe from and trolls and goblins who might be lurking under your bed. Also your teddy bear who, by day, watches over your locker where your 'secret stash' is hidden, and only you have the key that you that you wear on a string around your neck with your sacred medal. Really important ''stuff'' especially when you're five. Maybe a picture of some strange people you can't remember, who the ''mums'' say are your real mum and dad.

Plus flippy floppy, missing one arm, rag doll. Everyone's favourite doll. Mostly for the girls, but boys too, in really tough moments. Rag doll came to us with a loving, doting mum attached _ came to us in a spot of bother. Mum was on the run. The brokers wanted to borrow mum's three-year-old daughter Miss May for collateral for mama's unpaid debts. (Borrow her, ''just for a while'').

But that was yesterday. We had a ''conversation'' with the broker guy and he went away. Mum has a real job and is upcountry. Daughter Miss May is most generous. Let's everyone Rag doll for a hug, or a kiss. Rag doll kisses skinned knees when you fall down to make the pain go away, but mostly to hang on to when you're really lonely.

The children totally expect us ''to be there''. To understand five year olds.

Serious stuff _ like that everyone has their own ''over the shoulder school bag''. And two socks because the teacher said one is OK, but two are better! And every girl's hair combed nicely with a hair clip to look pretty. And two new tooth brushes to replace those the boys used to brush puppy dog's teeth. And a daily allowance: Really important for self-esteem and dignity.

And that they prayed for the mouse who died when Kitty Cat caught it and proudly brought it for all to see. They put the mouse in a plastic bag and prayed one Hail Mary before saying goodbye and putting it in the trash bin.

And it's perfectly normal to lose your glasses _ often. And not to be scolded, at least not very loudly. And to splash in mud puddles. And give big hugs to stray slum dogs. And why eat vegetables? Kitty Cat doesn't.

Of course they know about the problems between teddy bears and Easter bunnies.

They have asked Auntie of the Moon to tell their teddy bears to behave. That they, the teddy bears are absolutely forbidden to frighten any Easter bunnies that might come around bringing chocolate.

My brothers and sisters, it's Easter, and with your children and our children, may all of your holy weeks turn into the Easter joy of a new and holy life.


Fr Joe Maier is the director and co-founder of the Human Development Foundation in Klong Toey. For more information, call 02-671-5313 or visit www.mercycentre.org.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Father Joe Maier
Position: Reporter